Our first post about our report The Lawless Zone focused on the unclear relationship through which Israel effectively privatizes powers in the field of defense, law enforcement, and policing and transfers these to settlers. The security coordinators are residents of the settlements who receive quasi-military powers. Although they are not formally empowered to issue commands to soldiers, in practice they do so, and in many cases they exploit their powers in order to expand the territory of the settlement.
This is the main problem created by the institution of the security coordinators, and accordingly our key recommendation is that the army should reassume these powers and appoint security coordinators who are officers in the permanent army and accountable solely to the army and not to the settlements. There is another problem, however, and it is one that highlights the symbiotic relationship between the army and the settlers.
In the mid-1990s, the Israeli government decided not to establish new settlements unless these were approved by the entire government. Since then, the phenomenon of the “outposts” has developed. An outpost is an act of seizure that is ostensibly private and unauthorized, but enjoys the de facto support of the authorities, including generous support from government sources. This tool is used by settlers to seize Palestinian or public land. This process was described in exhausting detail both in the report prepared by Attorney Talia Sasson and in our report The Road to Dispossession. In recent years the emphasis has been on expanding and approving existing outposts, rather than on establishing new ones.
None of this could have happened without extensive assistance from the army. In one instance, the outpost of Netzach Binyamin was torched by Palestinians. The army did not provide protection and accordingly the Israeli civilians fled. In the case involving the land seizure orders in Dura al-Qara, the army concealed the existence of the orders from the Palestinian residents to prevent their appealing, exposing a very long-standing pattern of collaboration between the army and the settlers. Our latest report has identified a new dimension of this collaboration.
In 2009, the district brigades redefined the guarding areas for which the security coordinators are responsible. The changes were made after many years when the coordinators effectively worked without any geographical restriction, since the guard order defining their operations did not specify the boundaries of the settlements. Following a petition submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the army took no less than four years to prepare the amendment.
The amendment led to two changes. Firstly, the guarding area of the settlement was defined not according to its municipal boundaries, but according to the defense perception of the brigade commander. More importantly, the orders for the first time defined guarding areas for illegal outposts: 48 such outposts were allocated independent guarding areas, while 35 more were included in the guarding area of their parent settlement.
This provision constitutes the de facto approval of the outposts by the IDF – and this in an administrative process that was supposed to restrict the security coordinators’ operations.
This process happened quietly, without a government decision, without public discussion, and without updating the courts, which are still hearing the issue. An ostensibly technical military order bypassed all these stages, granting official recognition to a criminal offense.
This post is presented as a public service, in case you still believe in the fairy tale about the wild settler and the army that does not pick and choose its operations. The army very much picks and chooses its operations; it has always done so.
Watch the short video “Meir the Civilian Security Coordinator in the lawless zone”, for more information on the subject.