The civilian security coordinators and civilian guarding squads that operate in Israeli West Bank settlements are quasi-military forces comprised of Israeli civilian residents of the settlements and outposts in the area. According to the IDF, their role is to defend the Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank.
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The Lawless Zone addresses the transfer of policing and security powers to the civilian security coordinators (CSCs) in the settlements and outposts. It is Yesh Din’s first report on the CSCs’ controversial role. The report demonstrates how state authorities evade their obligations and transfer policing security powers to civilians. The report stresses that the role of CSC reflects the absence of neutrality and the chaotic state of Israeli rule in the West Bank. It also illuminates how the role of the CSC undermines the rule of law in the West Bank, to the point of rendering it meaningless. As such, it constitutes another layer in Israel’s violation of its obligation to protect the Palestinian residents of the West Bank.
CSCs are subject to the Military Justice Law. They are equipped with IDF weapons, trained by the army and empowered to perform policing functions such as search and arrests, and to use force; their activity is ostensibly overseen and supervised by the army. However, in practice they are appointed by the settlements and regard themselves as representing the settlements’ interests, and not necessarily those of the army.
This conflict of interests, combined with the absence of a clear definition of CSC powers and weak supervision of their actions, leads to daily confrontations and conflict between CSCs (and the settlement civilian guarding squads that answer to them) and Palestinians farmers. In many cases, Palestinian farmers are prevented from cultivating their land.
Although the State of Israel already began operating these quasi-military forces in the settlements in 1971, over 40 years later, key aspects of their operations have yet to be formally defined. For example, no rules have been established regarding the army’s supervision of the appointment of CSCs and civilian guarding squads or of their operations. Nor have rules been defined regarding the relations between these forces and soldiers stationed in the settlements, or other army units. The responsibility for the operation of these forces is currently dispersed between the Ministry of Defense, which finances their operations, the IDF, which is supposed to supervise their work, and the settlements, which appoint them and serve as their direct employers.
In July 2009, the military order concerning guarding in the settlements was amended, and a series of additional military orders established different borders for the perimeters of the “guarding area” assigned to guards in the settlements and outposts. These borders are not necessarily identical to existing municipal boundaries or areas of jurisdiction assigned to Israeli settlements. The amendment to the military order regulating the “guarding areas” thus legalizes the institutional and non-institutional criminality involved in the establishment of these outposts, including the seizure of private Palestinian land and large-scale illegal construction, in some cases contrary to military orders and court rulings, including those of the High Court of Justice.
The report emphasizes that the transfer of policing powers to civilian entities promotes the privatization of law enforcement authorities, which not only “has a particularly pernicious impact when it takes place in occupied territory, in which the settlements themselves were established in gross violation of international law and entail the usurpation of land on a massive and protracted basis,” but also contradicts international law. According to international law and many Supreme Court rulings, the military commander in the occupied territory is obligated to protect the residents, such that privatization of military powers to entities that do not contribute to law enforcement infringes on this duty, and the military is considered responsible for the violation of the law and of its obligation to enforce it.