When the IDF is willing to remove illegal construction, it leaves the work to the settlers. Settler terrorism appears to scare soldiers, too
There’s a small village named Deir Nizzam, close to the village of Nabi Salah. Some years ago, the government used an old schtick and declared some of its agricultural lands, including its water spring, an archeological site. Settlers, probably from Halamish, were soon constructing illegal structures near the spring. This was unusually illegal, given the archeological nature of the place.
In 2010, we learned that the settlers were building there, cheerfully ignoring the relics. In 2011 we petitioned the courts, and as usual the petition dragged on and on. Following the petition, the Civil Administration issued orders demanding a freeze in the works, but the settlers kept on going. In January 2013 the government informed us the illegal constructions were removed, and as we were proceeding with the procedure of receiving our costs, we found out the construction was not, in fact, removed. The procedure was renewed, and some ten days ago we learned the settlers removed the illegal constructs. Once more we checked, and for once this was actually true.
This isn’t the only such case. We reported about a month ago (Hebrew) about the scandal in Havat Gilad, when the Defense Minister decided to declare as kosher one of the most violent illegal outposts in return for the removal of four structures. Not by accident, these structures were in Area B. Well, they were evacuated – sort of. The settlers demolished the constructs, but left the foundations intact. A short while later they seem to have begun rebuilding one of them.
In this case, too, the demolition was not carried out by the body filling the shoes of the sovereign in the West Bank, i.e. the army, but was subcontracted out to the settlers. The latter, let us say, are not particularly reliable in this job. Why does the army not carry it out itself? Why does the sovereign strip himself of his sovereignty?
Because at the extreme points, those rare cases when the two great enablers of the occupation – the settlers and the army – find themselves facing each other, the army always turns out to be the weakest link, it always blinks first. After all, the army officers are also exposed to settler terrorism, and the settlers have a long institutional memory, which the army lacks. The local brigade commander is replaced every year or two; ideological felons like Ze’ev “Zambish” Hever (nee Friedman, the name under which he was convicted for his part in the actions of the Jewish underground of the 1980s) has been around for 40 years, sometimes more. Junior officers quickly learn that there’s no messing with the real sovereign on the ground. They quickly learn that if you piss off the masters of the land, your jeep’s tires will be slashed, your soldiers will be harassed, and your career will head into a rock.
The fact that defense ministers, often former generals, generally want to flatter the settlers is also unhelpful. Yaalon is likely the worst of them. He managed to fail in removing outposts – after declaring such removal as “a back wind for terrorism” – already as a Chief of Staff, about a decade ago. His “commander’s spirit” is very clear, and it gives a back wind to what his commanders on the ground already feel and do. Yet Yaalon’s own career – his quiet disregard of Defense Minister Ben Eliezer’s orders to remove outposts – shows that when it comes to a clash between the minister and the commanders, it’s the officers who emerge victorious.
The removal of illegal outposts is a clash point; the settlers set them up as such ever since the Disengagement. The IDF does not want this headache, so when the pressure mounts it moves aside – allowing not only its own sovereignty to be trampled, but also the rule of law. When it comes to law enforcement, the IDF is a broken reed.
How did the State Comptroller put it last week? “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Precisely.