'Call Day or Night': The Settlers' New 'Snitch Line' Targeting Palestinians

'Have you seen Palestinian construction work that looks to you to be suspicious and unauthorized? Have you encountered a sanitation hazard created by Palestinians who disdain the law? From now on you have a 'snitch line' of your own'

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The Maon Farm settler outpost, near Hebron in the West Bank, which Palestinians say has been illegally build on their land.
The Maon Farm settler outpost near Hebron. Lawyers for the Hakel NGO, representing Palestinian farmers whose land has been taken over by settlers, have complained about illegal building here.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Israel’s Civil Administration has opened a telephone hotline for receiving information about construction that is being done in the West Bank without permits. The website of the settlement of Kokhav Yaakov calls it a “snitch-line” – and leaves no room for guesswork: The target of the snitching is Palestinians.

Last week the website posted the Civil Administration announcement of hotline Hamal C (literally, “Operations Room C”), and interpreted it as follows: “Have you seen Palestinian construction work that looks to you to be suspicious and unauthorized? Have you encountered a sanitation hazard created by Palestinians who disdain the law? From now on you have a 'snitch-line' of your own. Call at any hour of the day and submit a complain about it. Every day there will be a summary of the complaints and a display of what was examined and what was confiscated in the event that there was improper conduct. Good luck.”

Hamal C was established with the declared objective of coordinating and streamlining the enforcement activities of the Civil Administration in the West Bank, which operates under the auspices of the Defense Ministry’s unit of Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories.

According to the response Haaretz received from the spokesperson of that unit, the hotline was established in November 2020, but its existence has yet to be officially publicized. “An announcement regarding the establishment of the hotline has been sent to Civil Administration officers and employees, as well as to a limited number of groups only, as an initial stage in the process of getting the hotline underway,” was the reply to Haaretz.

And in fact, a search for the hotline on Google leads to a single reference – the one on the Kokhav Yaakov site website. The other unknown, select groups (i.e., settlements) who received the announcement obviously understood that it was not for publication as yet. On the other hand, the hotline itself is already in operation.

Last week I called the three phone numbers appearing in the Civil Administration’s announcement. One was answered by someone who sounded to me like a young female soldier, who confirmed that this was Hamal C, and that I should send the GPS coordinates of the site in question along with photos and an explanation of the nature of the construction being reported. You can send a WhatsApp with that information to the cellphone number that’s listed, she added in a friendly voice.

How many snitches are necessary? The right-wing NGO Regavim has been operating as a mega-snitch for over a decade. It is equipped with drones that spy on Palestinian communities, and with lawyers who submit whiny petitions decrying the fact there aren’t more Palestinian homes and villages being demolished. The new Settlement Affairs Ministry recently initiated the allocation of millions of shekels of our tax money so that the settlers can purchase more espionage drones and sent additional scouts to track down the Palestinians. And besides, ordinary settlers have anyway always had a direct line to the Civil Administration.

In terms of bureaucracy, how does all the snitching activity work together? A security source told Haaretz that Hamal C “was established after thorough background staff work in the Civil Administration, which is not related to certain announcements in the press.” In other words, Hamal C was conceived long before the initiative of the administration’s competitors was announced by the Settlement Affairs Ministry. Will the competitors’ snitches have a different telephone hotline? Will the two hotlines quarrel? Let’s wait and see.

Officially, Hamal C is also supposed to serve those who wish to report on illegal Israeli construction by Jews in the West Bank. “Once we decide to publicize the activity of the phone hotline, the notice will be published both in Hebrew and in Arabic,” I was told. And in fact, in early December the attorneys of Hakel (The Field, in Arabic) – an organization that represents Palestinian farmers whose land was and is being taken over by settlers – were referred to the snitch-line by the District Coordination Office (a branch of the Civil Administration).

Since then these lawyers have reported three times via the hotline about new illegal construction: in both Avigayil and the Maon Farm, on land belonging to the Palestinian villages of Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron; and in Esh Kodesh, on land belonging to the village of Jalud. The three Jewish locales mentioned are illegal and unauthorized outposts, which are benefiting from a de facto and de jure legalization process, and are gradually expanding despite the demolition and evacuation orders officially issued against their dwellings – and despite the documented violence they have perpetrated for years against Palestinians and against Israelis opposed to the occupation. Hakel was told that coordination office representatives sent someone to check what’s going on.

So, should we be happy? Let’s not fall into the trap of symmetry. Even if Arabic speakers will answer calls on the hotline, we can’t compare construction without permits by Palestinians in the West Bank – and illegal and unauthorized construction by Jews. The former are forced into building in contravention of regulations, on their own land, because the rules established by Israel are designed to make them disappear. The latter, the settlers, were essentially sent by their government to participate in an illegal operation: expansion of the Jewish colonialism project.

The Civil Administration is one of the most veteran and experienced organizations when it comes to executing Jewish colonialist policy. And still, in the past 12 years it has been subject to a targeted attack by the settlers’ lobby headed by Regavim, who claim that it isn’t doing enough to evict Palestinian and to take over their land.

Under this attack the administration and military legal experts have hastened to invent additional tricks in order to expedite the process of land theft. The snitch-line is yet another means. After all, even government officials and military officers are human beings. They have to demonstrate that they’re becoming more efficient, in order to find favor in the eyes of their settler-masters and to win the contest over who confiscates the most solar panels and water pipelines, and who expels the most Palestinians.

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