The Israeli army’s default position: Supporting the outlaws

The IDF clarifies that instead of removing an illegal outpost, it prefers to defend it – and Palestinian farmers pay the price.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

The Israeli army's default position: Supporting the outlaws
Border Police officer shaking hands with masked Israeli settler, March 2, 2013 (Guy, Ta’ayush activist)

In January 2001, as most of us were busy with the events of the Second Intifada, several outlaws built the Tapuach Ma’arav outpost in the West Bank. The outpost is about two kilometers away from the settlement of Kfar Tapuach, famous mostly because it was created by the supporters of Rabbi Meir Kahane, and also provided refuge (Hebrew) for the murderer Eden Nathan-Zada, who in 2005 killed four Israeli Palestinians in an attempt to halt the Gaza Disengagement Plan.

Tapuach Ma’arav was partly built on the lands of the village of Yassuf, and as an outpost its logical purpose is to prevent the access of Palestinians to their lands, so that later – through manipulation of the land laws – they can be dispossessed of their property. We examined this method in our report about the outpost of Adei Adi. As part of their dispossession attempt, the settlers erected an earth rampart blocking the road leading the farmers to their lands.

Yesh Din is assisting the villagers in their appeal to the Israeli High Cout of Justice, filed in December 2010. In response, the state announced its intention to change the situation on the ground, and lo and behold, it has. Instead of the piratical roadblock built by the settlers, the state installed – Israeli readers take note: this was done with your tax money – a massive steel gate, which is a much more effective barrier between the Palestinians and their lands. From now on, the army decided, Palestinians who want to work their lands will have to receive a permit in advance. So, if prior to the army’s involvement the Palestinians had their rights denied by settlers, now this denial is official policy of the sovereign forces — the Israeli army.

It’s important to note that Israel’s armed forces – whether they take their orders from the local military commander or from the Civil Administration – do not deny that Tapuach Ma’arav is an illegal outpost. They are perfectly aware of that, and have affirmed it to the courts. They are also well aware of the demolition orders against it, given that the Civil Administration issued them itself. Those orders, needless to say, were not carried out. And as if this wasn’t absurd enough, the limitations on access are enforced only against the legal owners of the land; the outlaws come and go as they please.

The presence of an illegal outpost near Yassuf brought about the usual result: a long series of attacks on the Palestinians by Israelis. Several Yassuf residents were physically attacked: some 10 vehicles were smashed or torched and someone set the village mosque ablaze on December 2009. The village became a marked target of Jewish terrorism (aka “price tag” attacks): about 700 trees were uprooted and dozens of incidents of stealing crops and livestock were noted. The residents presented police with a large number of complaints; so far, no one has been indicted. Following the torching of the mosque, the authorities said they were “shocked!”, shocked – but, again, no one was indicted.

About two months ago, we finally managed to arrange a tour of the scene, alongside the sector’s brigade commander, Col. Yoav Marom. Coordinating the tour itself took months. A day before the tour, the incident described here took place: Despite coordination with the army, settlers disrupted the work of the farmers and later stole a donkey from them along with some of their tools. According to the District Coordination Office report, they noticed the theft on a CCTV camera present. If the authorities bothered opening a criminal case against the thieves, they haven’t informed us of it.

During the tour, the colonel said unequivocally that as far as he is concerned, Kfar Tapuach and the Tapuach Ma’arav outpost are one settlement, and he is committed to defending Tapuach Ma’arav and the road connecting it with Kfar Tapuach. The colonel admitted that the outpost is illegal, but said he does not see that as a consideration. His position was that the presence of the outpost “challenges” his forces in carrying out their security mission – and hence, instead of removing the illegal outpost, the landowners’ access is to be restricted. The colonel refused to consider the possibility of imposing similar restrictions on the criminals living in the outpost. He admitted, however, that without the presence of the outpost the situation would be significantly different, and that a significant part of the restrictions on the Palestinian farmers would not be imposed.

During the tour, two incidents worth noting took place. The civilian security officer (CSO) of Tapuach – see here for an explanation of the CSO issue – used foul language against one of Yesh Din’s female workers, in the presence of the colonel. The latter was outraged and promised that the CSO would be removed from office on the following day. As far as we know, he is still in his position.

In the second incident, the representative of the DCO reprimanded the representatives of Yassuf and demanded to know why they even asked for legal support, telling them it would have been better for them to talk to him directly and not through attorneys. It’s hard to see these remarks as anything other than an implicit threat that the farmers will be harmed if they dare to claim their legal rights. It’s worth noting that contrary to the officer’s words, in the past, appeals to the DCO – made without legal representation – were not answered.

The following day, everything went back to normal: the farmers went to their lands after coordinating it with the army; hoodlums who were seen coming from Kfar Tapuach or Tapuach Ma’arav prevented them from accessing the land with the use of violence and firearms; and IDF troops ordered the Palestinians to return home.

So it goes. The IDF’s default action in the West Bank is collaboration with criminals. It is not the IDF’s fault alone; its policy is the result the entire government’s policy, and all of its branches.

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.