Original photo: Ta’ayush

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

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

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 may be dispossessed of them. We have examined this method in our report about the outpost Adei Adi. As part of the 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 HCJ, 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 created – Israeli readers take note: it did this with your tax money – a massive steel gate, which now is a much more effective barrier between the Palestinians and their lands. From now on, decided the army, 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 became an official policy of the sovereign forces.

It’s important to note that our 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 said so to the courts. They are also well aware of the demolition orders against it, given that the Civil Administration issued them. Those orders, needless to say, were not carried out. And as if this wasn’t absurd enough, the limitations on access are enforced only on 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; someone set the village mosque ablaze on December 2009. The village became a marked target of Jewish terrorism (AKA “price tag”): about 700 trees were uprooted, and dozens of incidents of stealing crops and livestock were noted. The residents presented the police with a large number of complaints; so far, no one was 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, Colonel (Aluf Mishneh) Yoav Marom. The coordination of 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 and some of their tools. According to the report of the DCO, they noticed the theft through the 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 outpost Tapuach Ma’arav 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 their security mission – and hence, instead of removing the illegal outpost, the access of the landowners is to be restricted. The colonel refused to consider the possibility of imposing similar movement 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 RAVSHATZ of Tapuach – see here for an explanation of the RAVSHATZim issue – used foul language against one of Yesh Din’s female workers, in the presence of the colonel. The latter was outraged and promised the RAVSHATZ would be removed from office on the following day. As far as we know, he is still in office.

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 by use of violence and firearms, prevented them from accessing the land; and the IDF troops ordered the Palestinians to return home.

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