Editorial |

Settlements Don't Create Security, Justice Stein

Israeli soldiers keeping guard as Israeli children play outside the Beit Hadassah settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron, May 29, 2017.
Israeli soldiers keeping guard as Jewish children play outside the Beit Hadassah settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron, May 29, 2017.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

“A Jewish civilian presence constitutes part of the regional security doctrine of the Israel Defense Forces in the area. This is because the presence of citizens of the country who hold the seized property makes a significant contribution to the security situation in that same area, and makes it easier for the army to carry out its mission.”

These words are not from a history book written in the 1970s. They were written this week by Supreme Court Justice Alex Stein in a court ruling, and they could provide a dangerous, precedent-setting opening for military seizure orders directed at privately owned Palestinian land for purposes of settlement construction.

In the Elon Moreh case, the claim that the establishment of a settlement enhances security failed. Neither the state nor the army has raised this argument since. In practice, building a settlement on private land seized for security purposes, has been illegal. Now Stein is turning back the legal clock and claiming that a settlement is a security asset.

On Monday, the High Court of Justice denied a petition filed by Palestinians who were challenging the renewal of military seizure orders that permit the IDF to continue holding onto a building in Hebron that was built mostly on private Palestinian land. In 1983, the IDF built a military post at the site but, following a cabinet decision in 2018, part of the land was excluded from the seizure order so that a new Jewish neighborhood could be built.

The petitioners argued that excluding land to build a settlement shows that the military seizure orders had not been issued to address security needs, but rather out of “extraneous considerations” – in other words, to build settlements – and so the land the army seized should be returned to the petitioners. To that, Stein said a Jewish presence was part of the IDF’s regional security doctrine, and that settling Jews at the location would not eliminate the justification for seizing the site.

If Stein’s remarks take hold, it could serve as an opening for demands to expropriate private Palestinian land to establish settlements on the pretext that they further security. But Stein’s remarks not only threaten private Palestinian property rights; they could also endanger the settlements. Stein’s logic, which rejects the distinction between security needs and the needs of settlements, also implicitly undermines the distinction between soldiers and settlers. In the process, Stein may be contributing to turning the settlers into legitimate military targets in the fight against the occupation.

In addition, Stein’s remarks are not grounded in reality. The heads of the security establishment, including former IDF chiefs of staff, have for years argued that the settlements are not a security asset but rather a burden on the IDF. The Israeli interest, including its security interest, requires that an end be put to the theft of parcels of land in the territories and that these parcels be returned to their owners. With the great danger it entails, Stein’s ruling calls for precisely the opposite.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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