Editorial |

Israel's Settler Defense Forces

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
Israeli settlers' protest march for the settlement of Homesh, on Thursday.
Israeli settlers' protest march for the settlement of Homesh, on Thursday. Credit: Amir Levy
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Settlers’ repeated forays into the site of Homesh – a settlement that was removed at the government’s decision and whose lands were supposed to return, by High Court of Justice ruling, to their Palestinian owners – leaves this legal and moral wound bleeding and suppurating. The situation is intolerable.

It was intolerable when settlers first built the settlement on privately owned Palestinian land. It was intolerable when, after the settlement was evacuated under the 2005 Disengagement Plan, settlers continued to stay there day and night under the Israel Defense Forces’ protection, even though the law authorizing the plan stated explicitly that Israelis would be barred entry to the site. And it was most intolerable of all when, after the High Court issued a decisive ruling that left no room for interpretation, not a single government agency took action to enforce the ruling and put the criminals on trial. The settlers don’t answer to the authority of sovereign Israel and thumb their noses at all its institutions and agencies.

Last week, the IDF said it objected to another settler march to the hill where Homesh once stood. So what? Who is the IDF anyway, if you’re a settler? Settler activists organized a march in which Knesset members, public figures and thousands of ordinary people participated, and the IDF stood aside and even protected the criminals, the true lords of the land.

A day before the event, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced that the march hadn’t been approved by the army and was illegal (Hagar Shezaf, Monday). Yet instead of erecting checkpoints – something at which the army is expert – and thereby fairly easily preventing thousands of criminals from trespassing on the hill, the IDF mobilized to protect them.

But the army isn’t acting on its own. It’s impossible to absolve Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of responsibility for the IDF’s behavior. After all, the protection of Homesh isn’t the army’s private initiative.

This double game undermines the authority of the government, the High Court and the IDF, and it also contributes to settler megalomania. If the court issued a ruling, the army ought to do everything in its power to uphold it. What happened at Homesh last week will happen tomorrow in other places.

The government and the IDF must not cave in to the settlers. The IDF is the sovereign authority in the occupied territories, and one of its jobs is to uphold the law. Consequently, it must immediately remove the yeshiva established on that hill and then, within days, allow the landowners from the two nearby Palestinian villages, Burqa and Silat al-Dahr, to return to their lands and work them.

If Bennett and Gantz don’t immediately order the army to do this, Israel will no longer be a country ruled by law, but one in which the settlers, under the army’s protection, break the rules and the government doesn’t lift a finger.

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