Israeli authorities in September placed one of the so-called hilltop youth under house arrest at Havat Itamar Cohen – an illegal outpost in the West Bank. That’s one example, and not the only one, of how the authorities are involved in de facto legalization of illegal outposts. (The teen, who asked that his name not be published, said he’d had a falling out with the owner of the farm, who was going to beat him. A few hours later the Shin Bet security service and the army placed the teen in another, legal facility. People at the farm declined to comment.)
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Another example is that of Hill 387, a small illegal outpost established on state land near Kfar Adumim east of Jerusalem. At the outpost, surrounded by privately-owned Palestinian land, an NGO called Haroeh Ha’ivri (“the Hebrew Shepherd”) operates. Its official purpose is to rehabilitate violent settler teens known as hilltop youth. In fact, the association itself established the illegal outpost. Its documentation shows that it is funded solely by the Education Ministry, with an annual budget of a few hundred thousand shekels.
The Education Ministry at first denied that the NGO established the outpost, but the documents it filed with the Civil Administration show that not only did it establish the outpost illegally, it is also seeking to have it legalized retroactively.
In 2014, Amira Hass disclosed in Haaretz that the Shomron Regional Council was behind the establishment of the illegal outpost Havat Shaharit. The Shomron Regional Council responded at the time that “the work was carried out by law and in coordination with the relevant officials.”
Yet another illegal outpost, a kind of farm in the Umm Zuka nature reserve, was connected a few months ago to a water pipeline by a nearby Israel Defense Forces base.
Ostensibly, after the report on illegal outposts submitted to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by attorney Talia Sasson in 2005, no more illegal outposts were to have been established, certainly not with government assistance. The report, which revealed that the government had invested hundreds of millions of shekels directly and indirectly in the establishment of dozens of illegal outposts, was to have put an end to this phenomenon. But aerial photos and Civil Administration data show that it has not stopped, it’s only gone underground. Over the past six years illegal outposts are once more being established, some in recent months.
Most of these outpost are hastily cobbled together, a tent or a prefab where "hilltop youth" – most of them under 18 – live off and on.
The authorities are fighting against these outposts tooth and nail, removing them and sometimes arresting residents, among other reasons because the security forces see them as a source of violence against Palestinians. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman seems almost pleased to order their evacuation – perhaps because they don’t have a political lobby or economic backing. Last summer, in speaking to journalists covering the West Bank, he called them “disturbed” and “idiots.”
The law is not being enforced when it comes to the better-planned and more establishment-supported outposts; they are sometimes recognized and receive assistance and protection. Since 2011, 17 illegal outposts have been established, 14 of which are known to the Civil Administration. The way they were established shows their planning. The founders or planners examined aerial photos and the location chosen was not coincidental: They are built on government land, not privately-owned Palestinian land, which increases the chance that they will be legalized in the future. They are mainly built in fairly remote locations with a commanding view of the surroundings.
Three of them are near but not connected to existing settlements, such as the so-called “prefab neighborhood” set up near the outpost of Sde Boaz, which was evacuated about two weeks ago. Eleven outposts were set up as farms with living quarters for a few people who raise flocks or crops. No plans are known for evacuating these outposts, although they are all illegal.
Dror Etkes, of the left-wing organization Kerem Navot, says that the founders of these outposts chose the locales and built their structures on state land so they can claim that they should not be evacuated. “They take over as much surrounding land as possible, including private land, which they steal by other means, such as cultivation or barring access [to the Palestinian landowners].” Etkes, who is in possession of Civil Administration maps, believes the settlers saw them before they established the outposts.
At the outpost of Nahalat Yosef, east of Elon Moreh, Etkes says: “Huge surrounding areas are private, and were taken over by planting or barring access, and have very much increased the area of the outpost. It’s methodical, and they know exactly what they’re doing.”
Civil Administration data obtained by Haaretz show that dozens of demolition orders have been issued against these outposts. Nine such orders were issued against Havat Itamar Cohen, and eight against Haroeh Ha’ivri. But the Civil Administration doesn’t issue demolition orders against outposts within settlement master plans, such as Neveh Ahi near the settlement of Halamish, which was established after the murder this year of the Salomon family in the unused area of where a master plan is in force.
But the flood of demolition orders is misleading. In fact, these outposts can expect the authorities to turn a blind eye to them, if not support them outright. “Except for Sde Boaz, there are no evacuations,” said Etkes. “This is clearly sweeping immunity against enforcement of the law. Add to this all the infrastructure around it, electricity, water, road-building; this isn’t being paid for with settlers’ private money.”
A resident of the evacuated outpost at Sde Boaz, which was established with the assistance of the regional council, told Haaretz: “They told us that the High Court had decided that it had to be dismantled. We were told there was no choice, that it could harm the settlements – so we left. We’re not hilltop youth, we’re good, law-abiding people we understood there was no point in going on.”
We might learn about the future of the illegal outposts through the case of Malakhei Hashalom, a small outpost on an abandoned army base near Shiloh in the northern West Bank, with a sheep pen that is presented as a farm. Visits to the site revealed it is inhabited by one family and visited occasionally by teens. The Civil Administration has evacuated the site a few times, but according to officials familiar with the case, a few months ago it was agreed between the Civil Administration and the site that its inhabitants would evacuate it of their own free will. The state sent them trucks and they piled their belongings on them. The Civil Administration proudly touted the evacuation. But within a few weeks later the outpost was established elsewhere, with the same sheep.