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The lie Israel sold the world — settlement 'outposts'

The Israeli government’s policy proves that the outposts are effectively settlements – only you’ll never hear them being called that. 

“The outposts are not ‘hilltop youth.’ It is a carefully planned seizure of strategic points, the outposts have been coordinated with the prime minister.” – Adi Minz, former Yesha Council Chairman, 2004.

By Yossi Gurvitz for Yesh Din

Two caravans form a new Israeli settler outpost on land belonging to the West Bank village of Jayyous, January 28, 2013. The structures were placed just one week prior, and are already being connected to water lines from the nearby settlement Zufin. The location was likely chosen to disrupt implementation of a 2009 Israeli court decision to re-route the separation barrier, returning a portion of Jayyous's land to the other side of the fence, including the area that the outpost now occupies. (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Two caravans form a new Israeli settler outpost on land belonging to the West Bank village of Jayyous, January 28, 2013. The structures were placed just one week prior, and are already being connected to water lines from the nearby settlement Zufin. The location was likely chosen to disrupt implementation of a 2009 Israeli court decision to re-route the separation barrier, returning a portion of Jayyous’s land to the other side of the fence, including the area that the outpost now occupies. (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Israel has not  officially created new settlements since 1996. This is an international guarantee made by the government. Creating a new settlement requires a government decision, and with three exceptions (the legalization of the outposts Bruchin and Rechalim, together with Nofei Nechemia, and Sansana in 2013), no such decision has been taken. Effectively, however, there are about 100 unofficial settlements in the West Bank. Officially, they are illegal. Officially, there are demolition orders against all the structures within these unofficial settlements. Practically, they get unceasing support from the government, without which they could not exist.

These settlements are euphemistically (and innocently) given the title of “outposts.” Their history begins two years after that government decision, when former Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon called upon the settlers to storm the hills and take them over. What you seize, we’ll keep, he told them. And thus the outpost movement was born.

In 2005, the Sasson Report on outposts was presented to the government; in its honor, Yesh Din recently published a new position paper titled, “Under the Radar.” Sasson had already identified the new settlement method at the time: the entire Israeli establishment more or less aids and abets the creation of outposts. After the land grab by Israeli civilians, the IDF promptly provides them with protection. Then, other authorities make sure water and electricity are provided. A short while after that, we have “facts on the ground,” which require legal procedures to change (procedures that can take years in the court system).

Even when it is clear that construction there is illegal, no one is put on trial – there is no single Israeli unit in charge of enforcing construction regulations in the West Bank. Recently, the High Court of Justice accepted the position of the State’s Attorney, according to which those in charge of the illegal construction of Ulpana Hill in Beit El should not be tried. The government used the stunning excuse: since it never indicted anyone for this offense, it may be that the suspects will attempt to claim “abuse of process.” If we take this logic further – and not much further – there will simply never be any point in attempting to indict someone for illegally taking over land in the West Bank. He or she will always be able to claim abuse of process.

Looking at the State’s statements in court on issue of the outposts, we see how its position has slowly changed. In 2008, the State took the position that it intends to remove many of the outposts, but that it would do so at its own pace and according to its own considerations. The State did not tell the truth; it has not removed even a single outpost without a clear order by a court. This, of course, was able to buy it some time.

In 2011 there was a change in the State’s position, when it told the courts that intends to pursue a course of partial enforcement. It would remove outposts built on private land, but will examine the possibility of legalizing those built on public land (which it prefers to call “state land” in order to create the impression that it owns them).

But this position also changed. In 2012, the government ordered the formation of the Levi Commission. (For more on that commission, see herehere and here.) It ruled that the outposts should be legalized, while rejecting the Partition Decision of 1947 and returning to the Balfour Declaration. In 2013, therefore, the State changed its position once more: it told the court that unless there is a concrete appellant who is an owner of land and can prove that the land upon which the outpost is built belongs to him, then “political considerations” take precedence over law enforcement. That is, the State, represented by the State’s Attorney – tasked with enforcing the law – is telling the court something astonishing: political will can override the acute need of any civilized state to enforce its laws; that political will can force back the old precept that “one should pray for the welfare of the realm, for without fear of it, man will eat man alive.” It should be noted that in one of his latest rulings, ordering the removal of the illegal outpost of Amona, Chief Justice Grunis ruled that in the case of illegal construction, there is no need for a concrete appellant; the very illegality of the construction requires demolition.

During 2013 and 2014, we saw another change in the state’s position: now it tells the court that while legally, the outposts mentioned in the petition ought to be removed, “special circumstances” prevent this removal.

Following the State’s behavior, we see the following deplorable pattern: historically, the government of Israel decided to mislead both the world and its own court system. The government created some 100 new settlements contrary to international law and its own obligations; it provides these settlements with every sort of aid, beginning with military protection and ending with legal cover. These days, it is trying to legalize about a quarter of the outposts – some are declared settlements, some are called “neighborhoods” inside already existing settlements.

In order to protect these settlements, it is willing to shake the foundations of the rule of law — one of the foundations of modern statehood — and it is willing to quietly ally itself with felons. Those felons, in effect, become its emissaries, the people over whom the state spreads its aegis. It promises them that it will reward them with the land they grabbed by force for the felonies they commit in its secret service.

And these, actually, are the minor offenses the State and the felons commit together. As for the more serious ones, they’ll be described in the next post.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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    1. Tzvika

      You know, just a week ago somebody here, Jello?, was trying to say that there has never been deliberate transfer of civilian population into occupied territory by the Israeli state, that it was all just individual zealots and jus’ folks acting against the state’s good efforts, on their own. This laying out of the decades long, organized, covert, felonious, dishonest actions of the state is helpful. “Hilltop youth gone wild.” Yeah, right.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bluegrass Picker of Afula

      Hilltops without people, for a people without hilltops.

      If the Palestinians really owned those hilltops for centuries, they’d be full of mosques. But….. the hilltops are empty!

      The Palestinians are so very…. predictable. Knifing the odd Israeli soldier to death on a bus, when they ought to be putting down caravans on hilltops.

      You cannot train a cat to be a dog. The Palestinians are as at a loss as to how to hold a land, as were the Al Andalus people.

      Reply to Comment
      • Tzvika

        Here’s the deal: Netanyahu leads an Israeli culture of impunity. At the same time he rails against the impunity of others. The world does not like hypocrites. Criminals can be retrained but first their behavior must be stopped. Then we retrain. That’s the way it is. The criminality is nicely explained by Gurvitz. Next time somebody BSs us about the settlements we shall refer to it.

        Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        When the Zionists exploited Mark Twain’s ill-informed travel writings to argue that Palestine was almost empty, it actually had a population density far, far higher than the United States. Why did not Herzl and company make the USA a land of Zion? Or at least his followers could have built a few Zionist outposts in underpopulated New England, Florida and California?

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel


          As much as you dislike Israel, Israelis are not going to pack up and vacate the land.
          You hatred blinds you to that reality and you’ve retreated into the past.

          I will indulge your naivete just this once.

          Jews had periodically tried to return to Zion for over 600 years before the advent of 19th century political-Zionism. http://azure.org.il/include/print.php?id=264

          These early, messianic Jews were consistently ill treated by the local Arabs and then by the Ottomans. Only with the weakening and collapse of the Ottoman Empire, could these Jews find a safe place to live. The ‘Old Yishuv’ built the foundation on which modern, political Zionism could be built.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            Much earlier than you 600 years before 19th century political Zionism, other peoples like the Christian Crusaders attempted to return to the Holy Land but that did not make their enterprise a worthy one. You have not been terribly successful in persuading the majority of Jews that Israel “is the only safe place for Jews to live”. Nevertheless, given that large numbers of Jews do live in that land, and have a right to continue living in that land, do you really think that continued colonial settlement building is the best way to enhance your “safety”? Or is it criminally insane?

            Reply to Comment
          • Joel


            Most of the settlements are criminally stupid. But all this talk about Jewish criminality avoids the greater question of whether the Arabs will allow the Jews to live in peace within any borders. The treatment of Jews attempting to live in Eretz Yisroel, 1244-1840, preceding political Zionism, suggests not.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            That is sheer nonsense I’m afraid, Joel. The international community accepts Israel’s legitimacy within its pre-1967 borders. The Arab League has repeatedly (e.g Beirut 2002, Riyadh 2007) offered a comprehensive settlement and full normalisation of relations with Israel by the entire Arab world. Israel turned down the offers without any consideration because it is determined to build a Greater Israel.

            You therefore need to rephrase your assertion to: “all this talk about Jewish criminality avoids the greater question of whether the Arabs will allow the Jews to live in peace within their expansionist borders, within which settlements continually expand, Palestinian land is constantly purloined, a brutal occupation continues and Israel rejects the possibility of a two-state solution”. And why should the Arabs acquiesce in this? Give me one good reason.

            You also introduce the antisemitic meme by this constant rhetoric about “the Jews”. Israel is not “the Jews”. It is a state that proposed to “promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants” and to “uphold the full
            social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex”. Israelis are only a minority of “the Jews” of the world, and Israel is simply a rotting apple within a basket, where principled Jews like Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Avraham Burg, Gideon Levy, Jeff Halper, Amira Hass, David Kretzmer and many other individuals have lost a battle against paranoia and bigotry. There is a simple rule of thumb here – whenever you hear people generalizing about “the Jews” (either for or against) you can immediately suspect their motives and their intellectual honesty. Please stop.

            Reply to Comment
      • susy

        Maxime Rodinson:
        “The Arab population of Palestine were native in all the usual senses of that word. Ignorance, sometimes backed up by hypocritical propaganda, has spread a number of misconceptions on this subject, unfortunately very widely held. It has been said that since the Arabs took the country by military conquest in the seventh century, they are occupiers like any other, like the Romans, the Crusaders and the Turks. Why therefore should they be regarded as any more native than the others, and in particular than the Jews, who were native to that country in ancient times, or at least occupiers of longer standing? To the historian the answer is obvious. A small contingent of Arabs from Arabia did indeed conquer the country in the seventh century. But as a result of factors which were briefly outlined in the first chapter of this book, the Palestinian population soon became Arabized under Arab domination, just as earlier it had been Hebraicized, Aramaicized, to some degree even Hellenized. It became Arab in a way that it was never to become Latinized or Ottomanized. The invaded melted with the invaders. It is ridiculous to call the English of today invaders and occupiers, on the grounds that England was conquered from Celtic peoples by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the fifth and sixth centuries. The population was “Anglicized” and nobody suggests that the peoples which have more or less preserved the Celtic tongues – the Irish, the Welsh or the Bretons – should be regarded as the true natives of Kent or Suffolk, with greater titles to these territories than the English who live in those counties.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Thank you. Rodinson should be read more often–and ALL of the article you excerpt should be read by +972 visitors:

          On the General Nature
          of the Conflict

          Couldn’t we say that this generalization articulated by Rodinson applies to so much of the right wing push back here?:

          “Ignorance, sometimes backed up by hypocritical propaganda, has spread a number of misconceptions on this subject, unfortunately very widely held.”

          Reply to Comment
    3. Yeah, Right

      You know what, I look at that picture and I think: heck, that’s a problem that’s easy to fix.

      Just get the IDF to declare the area to be a “closed military site” and then wait for those “hilltop youth” to go to their nearest Yeshiva for their “education”.

      Once the IDF is satisfied that those “hilltop youth” have gone off for their indocrin… sorry… their “education” then it’s a simple matter to whistle up the Apache assault helicopter.

      Two Maverick Missiles Later… poof! Problem solved.

      And if Maverick Missiles are ever in short supply (*chortle* Yeah *chortle*) then that’s no problemo – just substitute a D-9 armored bulldozer and…. crunch! Problem solved.

      Too easy. Can’t see why the Israeli government claims any kind of dilemma.
      After all…. closed military zone, remember?

      Reply to Comment
      • Joel

        Good article, Yossi.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Average American

      Israel’s government, with the support of its people, uses creative language that is designed to give an impression, and the person hearing it is allowed to believe it as fact. It uses specific words chosen for their ambiguity. Recall that under Jewish law, Jews have no obligations to non-Jews: no obligation to save them from dying, no obligation to stay off their property, no obligation to pay them on time, no obligation to tell them the truth. Read a little of the Talmud.

      Reply to Comment