Israeli government “bows” to settler pressure

Last week, following reports that Israeli forces were planning to evacuate and demolish Ramat Gilad, an illegal oupost located in the West Bank, Jewish settlers rioted. They hurled stones at Palestinians’ cars and threw a cinderblock into a military jeep. Jewish rightists also burned and vandalized several mosques. Now, it appears that the state has backed down…

The Israeli government has struck an agreement with Moshe Zar and Yesha Council, the organization that coordinates settlers’ activities in the West Bank, to allow the illegal outpost to remain, while moving five caravans.

Moshe Zar claims he has purchased the lands of the Ramat Gilad outpost from a Palestinian in the early 1980s. According to Zar, the Palestinian was assassinated for selling the land to an Israeli and, therefore, the registration of the lands could not be finished.

Rumors about the Ministry of Defense’s intention to dismantle the outpost were at the center of clashes between the Israeli army and gangs of “hilltop youth,” a loose Jewish paramilitary group in the West Bank that usually attacks Palestinians when the army dismantles unregulated settlement outposts.

After hearing about the imminent evacuation and demolition of Ranat Gilad, some 50 settlers and right-wing activists entered Efraim Regional Brigade’s base near the West Bank city of Qalqilya. The settlers threw rocks, burned tires, and vandalized military vehicles. During the attack, a brigade commander was lightly wounded after a stone hit his head. Right-wing activists also blocked a main road in the region and threw stones at passing Palestinian vehicles and Israeli soldiers.

Spokespersons on behalf of the army and the government remarked that a “redline was crossed,” and law enforcement agencies claimed that the “hilltop youth” deserve to be treated like crime families.

In the days following the attack, several “hilltop youth” activists were arrested under the allegation of taking part in “price tag” activities. It is unlikely, however, that the arrests will result in prosecution.

During an interview with the pro-settler news site Arutz 7, Shaul Halfon, one of the leaders of the “hilltop youth, claimed that the “government’s actions will provoke very serious things that we don’t want to do.”

Halfon added “we are the lords of the land, and the land of Israel is for the people of Israel forever.”

Despite public outrage about the attack on the military base, the Israeli government came to an agreement with the settlers in order to avoid the eviction of the unregulated outpost. The government, however, rejected legislation proposed by HaBeit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home) party that would make all existing outposts legal according to the state of Israel.

Under the agreement, which was mediated by Minister without Portfolio Zeev Binyamin Begin (Likud), five buildings will be moved several hundred meters. In return, the state will make the outpost part of the Karni Shomron Local Council, which will enable the construction of permanent residential buildings.

While many Israelis would like to believe that the realities imposed by settlers in the West Bank are exceptional, last week’s events demonstrate the opposite. When there is a discrepancy between the executive branch of the government, which supports the colonial project, and the judicial branch, that attempts to give Israeli policies the appearance of a “democratic” framework, the “hilltop youth” effectively mediates. Their actions allow the state to claim that it had to submit to the will of the citizens while, in reality, the “hilltop youth” reflect the state’s will.

The Knesset also tries to mediate such discrepancies by appointing judges who are friendly towards the colonial project and by attempting to reduce the powers of the court. In addition, the parliament is also engaged in changing the semi-constitutional balance between the Jewish character of the state and democratic elements, a shaky balance that some academics call an ethnocracy.

The hilltop youth are nothing but unwitting pawns in this process.


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