How the army helps settlers establish illegal outposts

Through the use of civilian security coordinators in settlements and outposts, the IDF has, essentially, privatized law enforcement in the West Bank. A further aspect of this symbiotic relationship is the army’s use of the coordinators to promote de facto recognition of unauthorized settler outposts.

By Yossi Gurvitz, for Yesh Din

A Jewish settler from the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Yair chases the flock and threatens the shepherds of Gwawis. He is holding an M16 rifle, issued to him by the Israeli army, as part of his paid job as a security coordinator. The law states that he is not allowed to take any action outside the settlements' borders, September 18, 2012. (photo: Shiraz Grinbaum/
A Jewish settler from the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Yair chases a flock and threatens shepherds of Gwawis. He is holding an M16 rifle, issued to him by the Israeli army as part of his paid job as a security coordinator. The law states that he is not allowed to take any action outside the settlement’s borders, September 18, 2012. (photo: Shiraz Grinbaum/

Our first post about our report “The Lawless Zone” focused on the unclear relationship through which Israel effectively privatizes powers in the field of defense, law enforcement and policing, and transfers these to Israeli settlers. The security coordinators are residents of West Bank settlements who receive quasi-military powers. Although they are not formally empowered to issue commands to soldiers, in practice they do so, and in many cases they exploit their powers in order to expand their settlements’ territory.

This is the main problem created by the institution of the security coordinators, and accordingly our key recommendation is that the army should reassume these powers and appoint security coordinators who are officers in the permanent army and are accountable solely to the army and not to the settlements. There is another problem, however, one that highlights the symbiotic relationship between the army and the settlers.

Read the full Yesh Din report here

In the mid-1990s, the Israeli government decided not to establish new settlements unless they were approved by the entire government. Since then the phenomenon of the “outposts” has developed. An outpost is the result of the seizure of land that is ostensibly private and unauthorized, but enjoys the de facto support of the authorities, including generous support from government sources. This tool is used by settlers to seize Palestinian or public land. This process was described in extensive detail both in a report prepared by Attorney Talia Sasson and in the Yesh Din report “The Road to Dispossession.” In recent years the emphasis has been on expanding and approving existing outposts, rather than on establishing new ones.

None of this could have happened without extensive assistance from the army. In one instance, the outpost of Netzach Binyamin was torched by Palestinians. The army did not provide protection and so the Israeli civilians fled. In a case involving the land seizure orders in Dura al-Qara, the army concealed the existence of the orders from the Palestinian residents to prevent them appealing, exposing a long-standing pattern of collaboration between the army and the settlers. Our latest report has identified a new dimension to this collaboration.

In 2009 the district brigades redefined the guarding areas for which the security coordinators are responsible. The changes were made after many years in which the coordinators effectively worked without any geographical restriction, since the guard order defining their operations did not specify the boundaries of the settlements. Following a petition submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the army took no less than four years to prepare the amendment.

The amendment led to two changes. Firstly, the guarding area of the settlement was defined not according to its municipal boundaries, but according to the defense perception of the brigade commander. More importantly, for the first time the orders defined guarding areas for illegal outposts: 48 such outposts were allocated independent guarding areas, while 35 more were included in the guarding area of their parent settlement.

This provision constitutes the de facto approval of the outposts by the IDF – and this in an administrative process that was supposed to restrict the security coordinators’ operations.

This process happened quietly, without a government decision, without public discussion and without updating the courts, which are still hearing the issue. An ostensibly technical military order bypassed all these stages, granting official recognition to a criminal offense.

This post is presented as a public service, in case you still believe in the fairytale about the wild settler and the army that does not pick and choose its operations. The army very much picks and chooses its operations; it has always done so.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

How the IDF abdicates its monopoly on violence in the West Bank
Resource: Privatizating law enforcement in, around settlements
Sheriffs of the land: Meet the settlers with military authority