Two sides of the same coin: How soldiers and settlers complete each other

Most of the time, soldiers and settlers are not adversaries; they are two sides completing each other. The settlers despoil the Palestinians of their land, and the soldiers pretend they have no choice but to defend them.

By Yesh Din (written by Yossi Gurvitz)

Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinians, as soldiers stand on the side, during an attack by Israeli settlers in the West Bank village of Asira al Qibliya, April 30, 2013. Settlers burned fields and threw stones at houses in the village after an Israeli settler was stabbed to death by a Palestinian man. (Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)
Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinians, as soldiers stand on the side, during an attack by Israeli settlers in the West Bank village of Asira al Qibliya, April 30, 2013. Settlers burned fields and threw stones at houses in the village after an Israeli settler was stabbed to death by a Palestinian man. (Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Some three weeks ago, S., a resident of the West Bank village Qusra, which is under constant terror attack by settlers, took his herd of goats out to pasture. As he was herding his goats around a building belonging to his family which was destroyed by settlers, several IDF vehicles reached the scene.

A few troops stepped out of the vehicles, and one of them walked over to S. and his herd, and began kicking the goats. When S. protested, the soldier began shoving him and threatening him, as some of the IDF’s finest documented the whole thing on video while laughing heartily.

Even though S. maintains he wasn’t even close to the nearest outpost – Esh Kodesh – the soldier threatened that if he sees him again, he’ll make him pay heavily. And then came the really interesting threat: “If you aren’t gone in ten minutes, I’ll call the settlers, they’ll handle you.”

Interesting.

It’s common around here to say that yes, there is injustice in the territories, but that which is carried out with malice isn’t done by soldiers – every “good” Israeli was a soldier, and they don’t like the image projected at them by the cameras – except by settlers. The latter are often presented as a force of nature, which manipulates the political officials as if they were a marionette, and there is not much to do about them. But the soldiers are not to be blamed. At worst, they may be frustrated/tired/depressed/cranky, and hence from time to time to blow up in some Palestinian’s face. But it’s never out of malice, just negligence. The situation is to blame, not the soldier. And when the situation is to blame, no one is to blame.

But the reality on the ground is significantly different. The settlers would not be able to terrorize their neighbors if they didn’t know they had the support of the strongest army in the Middle East, which can turn a village into a training site because it feels like it, or can turn into an armed gang at the drop of a hat. Without the army, the settlers could not exist.

And vice versa: without the settlers, the army would find it difficult to maintain its hold on the West Bank. Retreating from some godforsaken military camp is much easier than from a “settlement.” Throughout the settlement period, the army – allegedly a neutral body, taking its orders from the elected government – was a part of the land theft scheme. No settlement and no outpost were built without the army giving it, at the least, tacit quiet approval and often much more (not to mention sending its men to defend the new outpost).

Most of the time, soldiers and settlers are not adversaries; they are two sides completing each other. They are the good cop and the bad cop. The settlers despoil the Palestinians of their land, and the soldiers pretend they have no choice but to defend them. By being there, the settlers allow the army to pretend it has a legitimate mission of protection – even though the legal function of the army is defending not the squatting settlers but the indigenous population of the occupied territory, i.e. the Palestinians. Furthermore, as more and more members of Israel’s established classes avoid the army, since its mission of occupation can no longer be hidden, the settlers provide it with soldiers and officers.

The use of settlers as the soldier’s nightstick is not new: when the IDF went berserk in Awarta after the Itamar massacre some 30 months ago, settlers reported that soldiers told them how to bypass the army’s own roadblocks so they could wreak havoc in the village themselves. In one case it was reported that a Border Policeman provided a settler with a nightstick and asked him to hit the residents of Awarta in his name. In another case, soldiers asked settlers to harm the villagers in their stead, since they are forbidden. This is where things stand, away from the high command: the common grunt sees the settlers as a whip to hold over the Palestinians’ head. Their violence is self-explanatory, and is a useful tool for maintaining order.

Or, rather, terror.

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.