A Dozen IDF Soldiers Guard Empty West Bank Outpost While Settlers Take Break for the Holiday

Israeli reserve troops spend Passover watching over a cluster of empty settler homes long designated for demolition while residents spend holiday elsewhere with their families.

On Sunday night, one of the reserve soldiers sent to guard the outpost next to the Negohot settlement used the final night of Passover to kick a soccer ball around. Wearing civilian clothes and his gun, he played on a small pitch in the center of the outpost in the South Hebron Hills. He gave up after a few minutes because he couldn’t find a partner to play with − the residents had gone elsewhere for the holiday, while the soldiers guarded empty homes.

The outpost, also known as “Booster,” was established in 2002 and contains around five families and a few single residents. The outpost lies east of the separation fence on two hills − between which live 30 members of the Jadallah family − and is surrounded by three Palestinian villages. Traveling east to other Hebron Hills settlements requires a military escort.

Demolition orders were issued in 2003 for all the outpost’s structures, yet despite a 2007 petition by Peace Now to carry out the order, the government is considering legitimizing the place.

The Judea Regional Brigade is in charge of protecting the outpost. Reservists doing guard duty for 10 days there have been largely on their own for Passover, while the residents visited their parents. Still, the soldiers’ duty remained to guard the empty houses, which the army is supposed to demolish by court order.
The soldiers stay in a mobile home, protected by a brick wall between it and one of the Palestinian villages, Beit Awa. They guard it from two posts, making sure no one enters the place without authorization.

“We basically guard ourselves instead of being home,” says one soldier bitterly. They held seder in the mobile home and spent their time on patrol. “Where will we go?” says one. “This is what they told us to do. It’s absurd, but it’s the mission.”

The outpost’s size adds another absurd mission, as the soldiers see it. The outpost doesn’t have enough men to make a Saturday morning minyan, so the soldiers close the road to Palestinian traffic while four or five Negohot residents walk to and from the synagogue.

An order by the High Court of Justice forced the Israel Defense Forces to open the road to Palestinians in 2009. The villagers petitioned the court in 2006 to open the route, the only access road in the area, against the objections of the state, which argued that allowing Palestinians on the road threatened Negohot residents. So the road remains open to Palestinians save for prayer time.

The South Hebron Hills regional council said it opposes closure of the road to Palestinians during prayer time and offered to arrange a pedestrian path along the road that is entirely on state-owned land.

Regarding the reserve soldiers, the council said “Booster has many families seeking to join Booster, but the High Court of Justice prevents this, so an exceptional situation has been created in which five families living there might be away because of a family holiday such as Passover. There is still a need to guard the place from a security standpoint for reasons that are understood.” 

Eliyahu Hershkovitz