Israeli Defense Chief Blasts Radical Settler Youth as 'Disturbed Idiots'

Avigdor Lieberman said he supported the issuing of restraining orders against the 'hilltop youth' without a trial; says law legalizing construction on private Palestinian land 'sabotages settlement' effort

So-called 'hilltop youth' march to Jerich, 2010.
So-called 'hilltop youth' march to Jerich, 2010. Emil Salman

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that the radical settler “hilltop youth” were “disturbed” and “idiots,” and that the law legalizing construction in West Bank settlements on privately owned Palestinian land “sabotages settlement.”

Lieberman said he supported the issuing of restraining orders against the hilltop youth without a trial.

The land expropriation law, meanwhile, “is pure damage to Jewish settlement,” Lieberman told reporters at defense headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“For the Palestinians, it legalizes tens of thousands of homes, and for the Jews 2,000. Most of the Jewish construction [in the West Bank] is on state land. We're dealing with tens of thousands of homes for Palestinians and 2,000 housing units for Israelis because of the regularization law” – the expropriation law.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaking to legislators from his Yisrael Beiteinu party, July 2017.
Emil Salman

The expropriation law lets the state expropriate Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built “in good faith or at the state’s instruction,” and deny its owners the right to use that land until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories. The measure provides a mechanism for compensating Palestinians whose land is seized. Enforcement of the law has been suspended pending a Supreme Court ruling on its constitutionality.

Lieberman based his argument on a Defense Ministry opinion noting that  about 10,000 structures have been built in Area C by Palestinians on Palestinian-owned land – without permits, because the Israeli authorities in Area C have not been granting permits to Palestinians.

According to the Defense Ministry opinion, the expropriation law cannot apply only to the settlements, it must also apply to Palestinian communities in Area C, which is under full Israeli control.

Lieberman was speaking a few days after the state told the High Court of Justice it intends to enforce the law and demolish four buildings put up illegally near the West Bank outpost of Sde Boaz. Lieberman said those four buildings should be considered a move sabotaging the settlement enterprise.

“I don’t do anything secretly .... There are 40 houses [in Sde Boaz]. I don’t know why they need to build four more houses,” he said, adding that the land under the four buildings could turn out to be privately owned Palestinian land.

Lieberman said the Defense Ministry supports the legalization of 70 unauthorized outposts around the West Bank, but such a move is not immediately in the offing.

He said the ministry was also preparing for the evacuation of Palestinian communities built without authorization. He said work was being done to implement plans to evacuate the Palestinian villages of Sussia in the South Hebron Hills and Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’aleh Adumim within a few months.

Lieberman actually distinguished between the hilltop youth and the activists at Sde Boaz, who are considered less rebellious. “Hilltop youth” normally refers to young, hard-line religious nationalists who seek to set up unauthorized outposts in the West Bank.

He also harshly criticized the right-wing extremists. “The hilltop youth is partly a failure of the education system. Some of them are total anarchists and have caused enormous damage,” he said. “The greatest damage is the [terrorist] attacks, when they happened. When they burn a Palestinian family or child it is damage to the entire settlement [enterprise].”

Lieberman also elaborated on his desire for restraining orders. 

“Addressing this begins in the education system, but I have no problem signing administrative orders for these gangs,” he said, adding, however, that the hilltop youth were less active than they once were.

Lieberman said the Defense Ministry was preparing to evacuate Sussia and Khan al-Ahmar – two Palestinian villages built without building permits in Area C. He said planning for the evictions would be completed in a few months.

The two Palestinian villages have received support from international organizations and the European Union. Also, a school was built with the assistance of an Italian NGO in Khan al-Ahmar and has become a symbol of the Bedouin presence in the area.

The Obama administration strongly opposed the eviction, but it appears the Trump administration has been much less involved in the issue. Lieberman took the EU to task for its involvement with Palestinian construction in Area C and in efforts to block the removal of the structures that have been built.

Lieberman said that according to Defense Ministry figures, this year has seen the approval of the largest number of housing units in West Bank settlements for more than 15 years.

“The Americans don’t like it, but with the current administration, it isn’t becoming a diplomatic incident. We have reviewed all the Jewish settlement data between 2000 and 2017 from Bush, Obama and now,” he said.

“There has never been such momentum in settlement activity. As measured by the number of housing units that have gone on the market, construction has begun on 3,400 units that have been approved since the beginning of the year. When it comes to all the planning phases, there are an additional 7,000 units.”

He added that based on his ministry’s data, the number of terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem had declined since he took office at the end of May last year.

From June 2016 to August 1, 2017, there were 128 attacks, compared with 235 in the same period a year earlier, he said. The ministry’s definition of a terrorist attack also includes vehicle-rammings and stabbings, he added.