What we can learn from the IDF’s farcical attempts to prevent settlers from damaging relations with the U.S.
By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz
One of the U.S.’s federal agencies is named USAID, an acronym for United States Agency for International Development. It is one of the “soft power” arms of the American government: it deals with, well, civil development around the world, trying to remind the people of the Third World that the US government possesses not just drones, but also a young people of good intentions with plenty of money. Recently, a USAID project put Israel and the US on a collision course.
The story, as published this week by the Israeli news outlet Walla (Hebrew), begins with a water cistern facility built by USAID in the village of ‘Assira A Qabaliya, near Nablus. Unfortunately for the project, which merely tries to provide Palestinian villages with some clean water – a project which won the approval of the IDF’s Civil Administration, unlike, say, all of the illegal outposts – it happens to be near Yizhar, one of the most troublesome outposts around.
The people of Yizhar, noted Walla, dislike the project. They claim it will “serve terrorism.” Because, as everyone knows, everything the Palestinians do is terrorism. When they actively fight the occupation, it’s terrorism. When they throw stones, it’s “popular terrorism.” When they wish to use the tools of boycott, it somehow morphs into “economic terrorism,” and when they try to create their own state, we’re dealing with “political terrorism.” No Israeli spokesman has yet to claim that the Palestinians are using “breath terrorism” by their very existence, but one must give the Netanyahu government some time. After all, its embassy in Ireland already announced that Hitler would be happy with the UN.
Be that as it may, the settlers of Yizhar – which contains the Od Avinu Chai Yeshiva, whose rabbis became notorious by writing a book permitting the killing of gentile children – are not known for their moderation. When they’re unhappy with a project, they don’t sign petitions or open snarky events on Facebook. The USAID people found themselves under a constant terror attack, with Walla noting that “inter alia, the rioters from Yizhar set fire to a building created for work purposes several times, while using petrol bombs. In another case, security guards were attacked, and on quite a few occasions, the morning revealed graffiti written during the night, including ‘price tag’ and ‘death to Arabs.’” As per protocol.
The USAID people remembered that the territories are ruled by Israel, and that its government has an ambassador in Israel. Therefore, reported Walla, Ambassador Shapiro quickly contacted the IDF – which stands in the shoes of the sovereign in the West Bank – and asked the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories, General Dangot, that “the IDF defend the project from the residents of Yizhar.” Dangot delivered the hot potato to the General Commanding Central Command, Nitzan Alon. Here things got mixed up.
Technically, defending a water facility isn’t particularly complex. We’re talking about a small number of buildings and a limited number of roads leading to them; nothing an IDF platoon shouldn’t be able to handle. That’s not how it started, however. At first, reports Walla, the officers went to talk with the chairman of the Samaria Local Council, Gershon Masica, so that he could persuade the people of Yizhar. Mesica delivered the IDF’s message to Yizhar. Apparently the locals were not impressed with the messenger: a short while afterwards, hooded hooligans again attacked the facility.
At this point, according to Walla, the army realized that “aside from the mission of defending Yizhar, we need to act against the attacks on the American facility,” and deployed forces to the area. Soldiers in a nearby base were ordered to “prevent settlers from Yizhar from coming down to the Palestinian village with the intent of harming the cistern.” The deployment of troops significantly reduced the attacks against the USAID facility, though a group of hooded goons attacked an IDF force. The details are unclear, but it seems that unlike hooded Palestinians in such a scenario, all of the Jewish hoods returned home safely.
We use here time and again the Walla report, according to which the attacks on the water facility originate in Yizhar. It’s worth noting that this report is in accord with reports received by Yesh Din field researchers, which contain similar indications.
So what did we learn? First, that when the IDF really wants to, it can significantly reduce settler violence. It merely demands an allocation of troops. From that, we can deduce how criminally negligent the IDF’s daily routine is in the West Bank. When there’s no ambassador from a nation responsible for an impressive part of its budget breathing down the neck of senior officers, the IDF is not interested in its duty – by international law and HCJ rulings – to defend the occupied population. Time after time, the army argued that limiting the access of Palestinian farmers to land which is indisputably theirs is necessary, since it can’t protect them from settlers. This is just another proof of the old military axiom that “‘can’t’ is the cousin of ‘won’t’.”
Secondly, that the basic instinct of the IDF is to kowtow to the settlers. The deployment of troops to ‘Asira A Qabaliya took place only after the abasement attempts failed and the attack on the facility resumed even though the army asked the settlers not to cause problems with the Americans.
And thirdly, that if the Palestinians want protection, they need a strong international patron, one who can make the IDF shake. The latter won’t defend them of its own volition. When the call comes to internationalize the conflict, one hopes the IDF’s political wing – usually called the Government of Israel – will remember the precedent of ‘Asira A Qabaliya.