The status of the civilian security coordinators in the West Bank constitutes a glaring anomaly. Under the guise of protecting security and enforcing the law, this institution encourages lawlessness. The army must reassume the powers it granted to the coordinators
Yesh Din has just published our latest report, The Lawless Zone, which examines the institution of the civilian security coordinators and its negative impact on the conduct of the IDF and the settlers in the West Bank.
What is a security coordinator – or a civilian security coordinator, to use the full title? A security coordinator is a civilian, in most cases a resident of a settlement, who enjoys extensive powers in and around the settlement. The security coordinator receives his salary from the Ministry of Defense and receives instructions from the army’s district defense officers. But although the coordinators are formally subject to army orders, in practice they are accountable to the settlements. The settlement is responsible for appointing the coordinator, and in some cases even issues a tender for this purpose. The State Comptroller has recognized that this dual accountability is problematic, as has the IDF. The army informed the Comptroller that “in most instances the security coordinator chooses to act in accordance with the interest of the community (the employer), since it is apparent to him that a conflict with the employer may lead to his dismissal.”
Although the security coordinator is a civilian, he holds quasi-military powers in several fields of law enforcement. The security coordinators and their standby units are empowered to detain a suspect (based on their decision that a person is a suspect) and to demand that he accompany them to a police station, or to detain him pending the arrival of a police officer. They are entitled to search the detainee, to confiscate objects which they believe have been or may be used to commit an offense, and if the detained person refuses to accompany them or to be detained, they may also arrest him. The authority to arrest a person is accompanied by the power to use force. These powers are broader, for example, than those granted to guards in Israel, who do not enjoy the power of arrest. Conversely, security coordinators and their guards do not wear identification tags, uniform, or any other distinctive dress (the state attorney has promised that this matter will be corrected, but the relevant regulations have not been amended).
The fact that the security coordinator is a resident of the settlement is the most problematic aspect of the position. The security coordinator is committed to the settlement ethos, which is one of the seizure of Palestinian land. He exploits the powers granted to him in order to remove Palestinians from the vicinity of the settlement or outposts for which he is responsible. The character of the security coordinator has become one that inspires fear among Palestinians who often find themselves the targets of “legitimate” violence designed to remove them from their land. The security coordinators frequently draw on the army to this end, escalating minor incidents with Palestinians in order to secure military intervention that eventually leads to the removal of Palestinians from land on the grounds that they pose a threat to security. In many of these cases, the Palestinians are standing on their own land when this occurs.
Thus the power originally granted with the goal of encouraging law enforcement and security is often used in practice by the security coordinators as an instrument for expanding the area of the settlement or outpost and for breaking the law. The journalist Chaim Bar Zohar sparked a scandal when he described his own reserve duty service in the “Binyamin” area of the West Bank. Among other incidents, he retold how the settlement security personnel demanded that he escort elderly Palestinian women away from their land, and were furious when he failed to do so, commenting that soldiers performing their national service had always obeyed such instructions. The security coordinators are officially responsible for law enforcement; in practice, they are one of the elements that break the law.
As we can see, therefore, there is an inherent conflict of interest in the function of the security coordinator as it is implemented in the field. A person who is supposed to be responsible on behalf of the defenses system for the security of what is perceived as a peripheral community acts in practice not only to protect the security of the settlement, but also to expand its borders – a process that will almost inevitably lead to conflict between the coordinator (and the settlement) and the Palestinians deprived of their land. The army’s objective is to reduce friction with the occupied population. Under international law, it bears an obligation to defend the protected civilians and their property and to maintain public order. The actions of the security coordinators, however, almost inevitably heighten friction, disturb public order, and harm the protected civilians, due to the expansionist aspirations of the settlement, which is the coordinator’s employer. Thus their activities do not promote security, and it can even be argued that the opposite is the case. As for law enforcement, of course – no more need be said.
Our principal conclusion in the report is that the residents of the settlements appointed as security coordinators should be replaced by professional IDF officers. These officers must be accountable solely to the army and not to the settlement. The settlement will not serve as their employer, and the hope is that they will not share the ethos that seeks to displace Palestinians from their land. Perhaps it is not too much to hope that they may be committed to enforcing the law.