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Latest settler outpost demolition: Too little, too late

News of a demolition is not indicative of the termination of an outpost but rather illustrates that it is alive and kicking. Here is the story of one such outpost.

IDF protecting Hilltop 18; "Mitzpeh Avichai" written on van (photo: Mairav Zonszein)

The IDF Civil Administration demolished the illegal outpost known as “Mitzpeh Avichai” near Kiryat Arba in the southern West Bank Wednesday night for at least the third time. This may seem like a a moment in which the authorities are instilling order and justice in the Wild Wild West Bank, but in fact it only reflects how actively negligent and cooperative they have been in the spread of outposts that eventually become mainstays of the Israeli settlement landscape. Demolishing an outpost, which is illegal according to Israel’s own law, more than once is not a reason to cheer. It is kind of like when someone tells you they have quit smoking – for the third time. It is a sign the system just isn’t committed.

I know this specific hilltop quite well. To Israeli authorities and media it is known as Mitzpeh Avichai (the Avichai Hilltop), named after a settler, killed by a terrorist in 2007, in whose honor the hilltop was erected. To me and other Israeli Ta’ayush activists who have been atop it many times to monitor its development, it is known as Hilltop 18 –  in accordance with the classification given to hilltops by Peace Now’s Settlement Watch department.

When the outpost was evacuated last night, there were 10 structures housing nine families. In 2009, there was a single shack atop the hill with no one living there. It barely existed. A few adolescents from Kiryat Arba would go there for a few hours a day to try to establish presence there. The first piece of furniture they put on the hill was a synagogue bench and some prayer books. Besides praying there, this is the settlers’ way of making it appear as if the evacuation of an outpost is a sacrilegious and sinful act against Judaism by the IDF. Despite being evacuated, in 2010, settlers returned to the hilltop immediately and began connecting it to electricity and bringing in cement to build more solid structures. The IDF did not prevent this – nor did they prevent the throwing of stones by these settlers at adjacent Palestinian houses.

Hilltop 18, adjacent to Kiryat Arba, in mid-2009 (Photo: Mairav Zonszein)

In lieu of any IDF action to prevent the birth of this settlement (outposts are the fetus of a settlement), Israeli activists, together with Palestinian residents from the area, have regularly gone atop the hill in an act of protest against its existence and to show the settlers there that there are people who are aware of what is going on and who are making every effort to thwart such activity.

Extreme cases of settler violence against Israeli activists and Palestinians have taken place on that hilltop. One case last year involved settlers throwing rocks directly at an Israeli activist from close range, and an attack by none other than Baruch Marzel in 2009.

This is the same Baruch Marzel who was arrested just a few days ago for failing to show up to a court date for a charge of committing assault.

When Israeli newspapers make the demolition of outposts their top headlines, it gives a semblance of order and justice – as if the IDF is obeying Israel’s own laws and actively thwarting the expansion of illegal settlements. But the demolition of Mitzpeh Avichai last night – along with two others farther north in the West Bank – are too little too late. Those outposts should never have been there in the first place and there was nothing stopping the Israeli authorities from preventing their birth except its own policies.

Furthermore, news that the outpost’s “leader,” Yaron Kaleb, was issued a restraining order from the West Bank for six months should not put you at ease.  Rather, it should signal just how much damage and violence could have been prevented if only Israeli authorities had acted sooner. If it is so simple to locate someone responsible for the birth of a settlement and simply evict him or her from the area – then why is this not happening as a rule of thumb on a regular basis? The Israeli government owes the Israeli and Palestinian publics, as well as the international community, a straight answer.

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