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When the IDF wants to protect Palestinians, it's almost able

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

Soldiers arrest a masked settler (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

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.

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. Anne O'Nimmus

      “No Israeli spokesman has yet to claim that the Palestinians are using “breath terrorism”” – I dunno, Yossi, but the phrase “demographic time-bomb” is pretty darn close. It uses the word “bomb”, which kinda implies terrorism, no? Eeek! Palestinian babies! Breathing air segregated for Settlers!

      Reply to Comment
      • David T.

        “Yossi, but the phrase “demographic time-bomb” is pretty darn close.”

        Israel labels those Palestinans as “ticking time bombs” it wants to kill.

        Reply to Comment
    2. This story reflects why I think an economic zone of Israel, the Bank, and Jordan, mediated by the US, is the best way forward. One cannot expect settlers or (many) business Israelis to accept a common civil law over night; but economic encounter will produce grievances capable of resolution–if a third party with budget power is present to insist. Israeli security measures could start to shift through development of such an economic common civil law; certainly the protection of property could shift exact who and what the IDF protects. And the scheme would give a new venue for High Court decisions–and enforcement.

      I do not expect such a scheme, of course. The most likely outcome of the case you relate here is that Israel will discourage such USAID ventures. For the security of all.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      “one hopes the IDF’s political wing – usually called the Government of Israel”

      Good one, Yossi! Time to start recognizing the IDF for what it is – the most heavily-armed terrorist organization in the world.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Danny

      Just one look at the photo of that little inbred creature (complete with his glasses one conjectures he needs from too much Torah-reading), one can get a good idea of the kind of abuse the Palestinians have been experiencing at the hands of these settlers for the last 47 years. I wouldn’t wish neighbors like these on my worst enemy.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        I wish you hadn’t said that. Or even thought it.

        Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        This is uncalled for

        Reply to Comment
      • Ed

        Not cool

        Reply to Comment
      • rsgengland

        Your comment really plumbs the death of unpleasantness.
        It borders on the racist.
        Talking of neighbors, try ones that like to strap vests full of explosives and ball bearings onto their bodies, and then walk into supermarkets and restaurants and hotels, and then detonating themselves with the intention of killing as many children, women and men as possible.
        Then you will know the true depth of depravity that neighbors can sink too.

        Reply to Comment
      • All you have done, Danny, is deflect thought from the content of the post. Yossi and colleagues post this material for a reason. I have rarely found insults little more than trench warfare.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Gearoid

      Of course, the IDF has demolished plenty of USAID and European sponsored property before, including other wells and cisterns in the West Bank,and solar power units. Claiming they were “built without a permit”.

      Why the US and Europe put up with the IDF demolishing aid built with their own dollars is beyond me. So it’s not entirely clear even the displeasure of international powers can truly shift the behavior of the IDF.

      Reply to Comment

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