What guarding an empty outpost tells us about what is done in our name beyond the wall

Imagine a violent outlaw invading a plot of land which isn’t his, and the police not only refraining from evacuating the invader, but instead rushing to provide him with security. City hall, meanwhile, works around the clock to connect the scofflaw to water and electricity, and government ministers come forward to shake his hand, saying he is the salt of the earth. The Finance Minister proudly says he secretly funneled funds to the squatter.

Sounds implausible? Absurd? In Israel within the Green Line, that’s true. In the territories it rules beyond it, it’s a whole different story. Recently, a story which would be considered feverish elsewhere made headlines: A band of some dozen reservist soldiers secured during Passover an outpost in Southern Hebron named Booster – and they secured it even as it was devoid of any residents. The settlers occupying the place went home for the Passover Eve, leaving the soldiers to guard the place. This story isn’t unique: Similar ones appear from time to time, particularly during the holidays.

The IDF issued a response, which didn’t explain what the soldiers were doing in an empty outpost: “The mission of the IDF in the Judea and Samaria region is, inter alia, defending settlements, in order to foil possible incidents. The reserve battalion in question is active in the sector and is securing the Booster settlement as part of the yearly deployment graph.” But Booster isn’t a settlement. It’s an outpost, and an illegal one at that. A demolition orders for all of its structures was issued in 2003. Peace Now petitioned the HCJ in 2007 to have the order executed, but the government is in no hurry. Recently it made noises about making the outpost “kosher.”

Booster is not alone; its story is very similar to that of Derekh Ha’Avot, which we recently covered. This, in short, is the story of the outpost system: unlawful takeover of lands, which is often private Palestinian land, and then denying use of it to Palestinians. If the outpost settlers were truly outlaws, then the behavior of the army is strange: After all, if it is there merely to protect the settlers from Palestinian violence, as the IDF claims, why are they there even when the settlers are not? Given that all of the structures in Booster are illegal, why do the soldiers protect stolen property?

Only when you realize that what is officially a piratical and illegal action is in fact a planned, coordinated, approved action, in which the settlers are the spearhead of an attempt at creeping annexation – only then does it all make sense. The IDF is there not to defend some absentee homeowners; it is there to keep the unlawfully seized land from being returned to its owners.

The embittered soldiers can find solace in the fact they didn’t spend the holiday apart from their families for no reason; they hold Booster so that generations of soldiers can follow in their footsteps, to make inalterable facts on the ground. Because this is the decision made by shadowy bodies, who never gave an account of themselves to the Israeli public – the one that sent the soldiers there, and whines about their guarding empty buildings during the holidays, but does not really want to know why they are there. So it goes.