- Conferences and Seminars
The Settlers and the Army Are One
By: Geoffrey Aronson
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has not ended the occupation, but it has recorded one significant accomplishment. As one Israeli commentator explained, “Today it seems that the biggest threat to the quiet in the territories comes not from the Palestinians, but from irresponsible provocations of the zealous, insane margins of the Israeli right wing.”
Palestinians have long been at the mercy of the twin instruments of occupation—settlers and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The former have acted with impunity in what they view as a century-old battle against Palestinians for control of Palestine’s land and resources.
“We’ve been reporting for years about the settlers’ misdeeds, week after week,” wrote Ha’aretz’s Gideon Levy recently. “We’ve recounted how they have threatened Palestinians, hit their children on their way to school, thrown garbage at their mothers, turned dogs on elderly Palestinians, abducted shepherds, stolen livestock, embittered their lives day and night, hill and vale, invading and taking over.”
Palestinians are only too well aware that they cannot depend upon their own politicians or security forces to protect them against what many understandably view as the most dangerous and existential threat to their well-being. During the second intifada, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades were formed in part to address the absence of such protection, particularly in small villages abutting settlements in the West Bank heartland. Palestinian police are not permitted to exercise authority over Israeli citizens, including those who enter areas of the West Bank under their nominal control. Palestinians, in the words of one former al-Aqsa member, “are on their own,” when they or their property are the target of settlers’ “price tag” attacks or “pogroms” (like the one in Hebron in December 2008) or the defacing of a mosque in Salfit in January 2012.
For protection against settlers, PA officials advise Palestinians to rely on their own limited and inferior resources—and the IDF. One top Palestinian security official explained that his forces are handing out the telephone number of the local IDF commander in response to requests by villagers for protection against marauding settlers.
Depending upon the IDF to protect Palestinians from the depredations of settlers is like asking the wolf to assure the safety of Little Red Riding Hood. Safeguarding Palestinians is simply not part of its operational DNA. The IDF’s formal, primary mission in the West Bank is to protect Jews from Arabs, not Arabs from Jews. Assaults upon Arabs and their property by settlers are not viewed by the IDF as its responsibility. Rather, they are the province of the Israeli police, whose capabilities, even if they chose to effectively exercise them in such matters—and as a rule they do not—are widely derided.
The settlements and the IDF, on the other hand, are locked in a symbiotic embrace. The army is duty bound to protect settlements and their residents and to promote their welfare—missions that preclude the effective protection of Palestinians and their property despite being mandated by international law. The mission of protecting settlements and settlers allows the IDF to be seen by Israelis (if not by Palestinians and the international community) as something other than a foreign army of occupation.
The idea that the IDF, let alone Palestinians, needs protection from settlers, turns this well-honed system on its head. In mid-December, 100 young Israelis protesting the impending court-ordered evacuation of the settlement outpost of Ramat Gilad traveled from a prestigious religious academy in Jerusalem to assault a military base in the West Bank. A crowd of 50 entered the camp, threw rocks, burned tires and otherwise vandalized military vehicles before retreating. There were no arrests.
The IDF vs Settlers
“The IDF, which defends its people, found itself defending itself against [its people],” observed the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. “This is an unimaginable absurdity. It is an unreasonable and dangerous reality.”
Confrontations of various kinds between the army and those settlers it is pledged to protect have been a trademark of the settlement drive almost from its inception. There were more than 200 incidents between settlers and soldiers during 2011, including an attack on a military base at Beit El in midyear. Attempts three decades ago to establish Jewish settlements in areas outside the zones outlined in the Allon Plan were often accompanied by mass rallies, demonstrations, and the physical seizure of settlement locations, including confrontations with the IDF. The group settling in Elon Moreh, near Sebastia, in 1975 for example, was forcefully removed seven times before the government of Yitzhak Rabin agreed to establish a permanent settlement nearby.
Fast forward to the last days of 2011. “No one wants to destroy Migron,” explained a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to the unauthorized “outpost” settlement established in 1996. Migron awaits implementation of a long-ignored court order demanding its evacuation, which the government and settlers alike are working to short-circuit. Elsewhere, an agreement, negotiated by cabinet minister Benny Begin and YESHA council chairman Danny Dayan and modeled on the “patent” long ago formulated for Elon Moreh, provides for the legalization of the outpost of Ramat Gilad, the removal of structures from private Palestinian land and their relocation to “state land,” and the approval of 180 housing units in the newly branded “neighborhood” of the settlement of Karnei Shomron. Ha’aretz columnist Zvi Barel described this agreement as “a game of musical chairs in which everyone wins and no one is left without a chair,” except for Palestinians. “What is going on,” observed Ramadan Shallah, secretary general of the Islamic Jihad movement in a December 24, 2011, interview with al-Hayat, “is the liquidation of the [Palestinian] cause as rights are evaporating and the Israelis are imposing the status quo through facts on the ground.”
Settlers have always wanted to expand the margins of the settlement drive beyond the limits set by national institutions, including the military. This has been true since the first settlement was established in the Golan Heights soon after the June 1967 War. Rabin spoke derisively about “political” as opposed to “security” settlements. More than a decade ago, the IDF produced differing “security” and “settlement” interest maps of West Bank settlements. Advocates of Greater Israel have always found patrons in the political establishment—from Yigal Allon (Hebron in 1968) to Shimon Peres (Sebastia in 1975) to Ariel Sharon (1996) and Likud coalition chair MK Ze’ev Elkin today, (who reportedly informed settlers of IDF settlement evacuation plans)—to assist them.
Confrontations with the IDF are an integral part of today’s campaign to force a political consensus in favor of continued settlement everywhere. The IDF command is complicit, by virtue of its central role in the occupation, even if it is also frustrated by this strategy, as it has been since the settlement program began. Top military and security officials have even described settler actions as “Jewish terror.” Young conscripts, who have been trained to protect Jews, are confused when settlers spit at them and call them “traitors” and “Nazis.” The generals complain about the failure of Israel’s legal system to restrain or punish settler excesses. They marvel at the “hatred in the eyes” of rampaging young people and warn of the use by settlers of live fire against IDF soldiers. “This is a test for the state and for us,” said one major general. “If it does not end with heavy penalties, it will be a failure not just for us in the security establishment, but as a state.”
The IDF command prefers an orderly occupation, where the PA attends to the needs of a quiescent Palestinian population, and settlement continues inexorably, but without disruption to the military’s core mission. Settlers and their political patrons have never been satisfied with their place in this fanciful picture, and Israel’s legal and judicial institutions have always treated them benevolently.
Recently, for example, it was reported in Ha’aretz that “five suspects were indicted for collecting information and monitoring IDF soldiers, as well as rioting in the Ephraim Regional Brigade. Among other things, the five received information from IDF soldiers regarding troop movements and planned activities. The goal of the five who set up the ‘intelligence department’ was to collect information and operate [as] Trojan horses within the army. In response to an appeal to the Supreme Court, the judge criticized the severity of the actions, but released the suspects to house arrest.”
Settlers, particularly religious zealots who view settlement in Judea and Samaria as a divine expression of God’s will, have long exploited and been exploited by a political system in Israel whose overarching objective remains the settlement of the land by Jews and the enfeeblement of Arab control on the ground. This was the case during the era of the Bloc of the Faithful, or Gush Emmunim, whose activists during the 1970s were instruments in a drive to settle the West Bank heartland in places like Ofra, Shilo, and Itamar, among and between Palestinian villages. It remains true today, as the “hilltop youth”—including not a few of the children of these very same Gush Emmunim activists—constitute the vanguard of what then-Foreign Minister Sharon in 1996 called a campaign to “claim the hilltops.”
Benny Katsover, a veteran Gush Emmunim activist in the 1970s, was head of the Samaria Action Committee in October 2008 when he spoke with a U.S. diplomatic official, whose cable of their conversation was made available by Wikileaks:
Katsover’s committee drafted and published a strategy to create sometimes violent diversions during IDF actions against West Bank settlement outposts. The strategy has regularly been employed in the past few months, resulting in higher levels of violence. According to Katsover, the committee’s “new policy” is designed to “increase the price tag” of IDF action by calling for settlers in groups of ten to block roads, set fires, protest at IDF bases, and march near Palestinian villages. The strategy has led to early-warning cell phone alerts of IDF activity, mobilizing settler groups to respond with diversionary tactics. As Katsover hosted Pol[itical]off[icer] on October 2, Israeli security forces carried out the evacuation of Shevut Ami B outpost near Kedumim settlement (west of Nablus), sparking the deployment of settlers across the northern West Bank. . . . Some 25 olive trees were [reportedly] burned at Kadum village adjacent to Kedumim settlement during the rampage, resulting in the arrest of two settler youth. Simultaneously, . . . a settler was arrested for firing a weapon at Asira al-Qabaliyah village and was released on October 3 after a court hearing. Meanwhile, Katsover’s fellow settler pioneer, former Kedumim mayor Daniella Weiss, was arrested for assaulting an officer but was released to house arrest on October . . . Asked if he was using his committee to encourage settler violence, Katsover told Poloff, “I recommend that kids do not enter Arab villages or use physical violence.” With regard to Israeli security forces, Katsover told Poloff, “I don’t advocate violence against the army, but the police are different.”
Confrontations between settlers and the IDF, whether at Elon Moreh in 1974 or Ramat Gilad in 2011, remain tactical disputes between the principal Israeli agents of settlement and dispossession over the pace and direction of settlement. In contrast, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unprecedented mobilization of Israel’s security and political establishment in favor of evacuation of all of Gaza’s settlements in 2005 humbled even the settlers and enabled the speedy and largely peaceful evacuation of the settlements there, despite settler opposition.
“No One Wants to Destroy Migron”
The actions at Sebastia and the outposts of today were conceptualized by the author of the first settlement master plan produced by the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in 1977. Matityahu Drobles, then head of the WZO settlement department, wrote, “State land and lands that lie fallow in Judea and Samaria must be taken immediately, in order to settle the areas that are between centers of minority [i.e., Palestinian] population and around them as well, in an effort to minimize as far as possible the danger of the development of another Arab state in these areas. If divided by Jewish communities, it will be difficult for the minority population to create territorial and political unity and continuity.”
These principles continue to inspire Israeli settlement policy, no more so than on the West Bank’s “hilltops.”
“[T]here is no need to be overly impressed by the orchestrated shouting about the Frankenstein that has gotten out of hand,” wrote Yossi Sarid, a former Labor Party Knesset member and onetime leader of Meretz, after the December 2011 settler attack on the IDF, “because the denouncers are the ones who created him. They were warned a thousand times about creating a state within a state, an army within an army, but they didn’t want to listen. They were too scared of the settlers and their rabbis. We see them in their disgrace, dancing in front of Zionism’s coffin, and despise them.
“He who sowed the wind should not feign horror when the Jewish terror storm comes. He who poured oil on the flames should not pose as a firefighter trying to put it out. He who demands silencing the muezzin should not fake surprise when a mosque is burned.
Settlement Report | Vol. 22 No. 1
Source: Foundation For Middle East Peace, January - Febraury 2012