In recent weeks, Israeli settlers attacked and set fire to Palestinian villages in the West Bank, among them Turmusayya and Umm Safa, torching homes, cars and trees. Though this might seem like another instance in a series of uncontrollable breakouts of violence, it is in fact a policy choice made by the IDF, and it could choose differently.
The IDF will often say it is simply working to guarantee security, but it is in fact consistently making choices that guarantee chaos and violence against Palestinians. In 2006, a supreme court case ordered the army to refrain from closing access to lands for Palestinians for security reasons except in special circumstances. The IDF ignored the order, and the message to settlers was clear – if you cause enough trouble, we will punish the Palestinians, clearing the way for you to take over their land. The settlers listened, knowing that their violence will get them what they want.
During such attacks, the army often just watches from the side, and will sometimes join settlers in attacking Palestinians. Soldiers who dare attempt to protect Palestinians can get punished. In one case, settlers were throwing stones at children, a soldier tried to stop them, and the settlers threw a rock at his head, causing him to lose consciousness. Another soldier shot in the air as a warning to the settlers, and he got 35 days in jail for doing so.
These deliberate policy choices create an environment where settlers are encouraged and rewarded for violence against Palestinians, with the army guaranteeing their protection during an attack, and that the consequence of the attack will be the eventual closing of the land for Palestinians, clearing the way for settlers to make it their own.
The solution is clear – instead of closing access to lands for Palestinians, the IDF can choose to protect Palestinians from settler violence, and if necessary, limit the access of settlers to the relevant area. If a particular outpost is a source of constant settler violence – demolish it. On top of being illegal, and allowing ordinary citizens to make foreign policy decisions by dictating where Israeli borders and military presence will be, they are expanding the cycle of violence and undermining security for everyone. If the IDF wants to ensure security, demolishing an illegal hotbed of violence seems like a no-brainer.