[Israeli Politics 101] Understanding Israel’s outpost and settlement phenomenon

In order to understand what an “outpost” is, it’s helpful to have some geographical background concerning settlement communities which are located in Judea and Samaria, more commonly known as Israel’s West Bank, as well as other disputed areas including East Jerusalem and, finally, the Golan Heights, seized from Syria as a result of the 1967 Six Day War.

These communities which were not only obtained as the spoils of war but also territories which are historically recognized as being Jewish land, are situated beyond the Green Line (Israel proper) and almost exclusively inhabited by Jewish citizens. The controversy of this area and the houses on them stems from the ongoing international dispute as to whether or not these are Palestinian territories which were illegitimately taken but which, nonetheless, have been in Israeli hands for over five decades. This is the very claim by those who refer to this as the Israeli “occupation.”

However, it’s also important to understand that a great number of these communities exist both with the full support and backing of the Israeli government which has even subsidized and developed the areas which have been deemed strategically important to Israel. For example, Gush Etzion, a cluster of Jewish settlements located just outside of Jerusalem’s southern border, is expected to grow to half a million people within the next decade and has enjoyed construction expansion with the full blessing of the Housing Ministry. There is a beautiful, modern mall, major tourist attractions such as ATV rentals, a Heritage Center, museums, first-class winery, a myriad of eateries and even French patisserie. All this development has been accomplished with the full knowledge and sanction of the Israeli government in order to make it a desirable place where Zionistic citizens will choose to live.

Then there are areas which neither have the backing and support of the Israeli government nor the planned strategy to officially claim them and develop them at this time. It is, typically, those areas which attract Zionist activists – oftentimes young people, to, overnight – in the dead of darkness – suddenly establish a structure, be it a caravan or makeshift temporary housing unit, claiming it as Israeli Jewish property which is now being claimed by them and homesteaded.

Such was the case in the hilltop area known as Amona where police recently cleared out two mobile homes which were illegally built, resulting in the injury of four citizens and 23 police officers when 300 settlers mobilized to stand their ground. Rioters hurled stones, burned tires and threw heavy iron bars at the police. In the end, tear gas had to be employed in order to disperse the activists.

In cases like this, there is often a claim that such outposts are undeniably legitimate since the land was legally purchased from the original Palestinian land owners, and here it’s important to note that any Palestinians discovered to have sold land to Jews are subject to prosecution by the Palestinian Authority for having committed a crime which can be punishable by hard labor, imprisonment or execution even though there has not been an execution since 2006.  

However, even if the land was legitimately purchased, there is a required permit which must first be obtained before anyone can make claim to the land and place a housing structure on it. In addition to that important detail, perhaps, the greatest impediment to these kinds of overnight housing claims is that, in this particular area of Amona, the IDF closed off the area, turning it into a military zone – meaning that anyone who would attempt to override such authority would be deemed to openly rebel against the Israeli armed forces and the government itself which expects the military to enforce its policies concerning settlements.  

Israel’s highest court ordered the demolishment of the community of Amona in 2017, claiming it had been situated on private Palestinian territory. Knowing this, those responsible for this latest outpost, yet again, petitioned the courts to allow them to remain in their mobile home, but the request was met with a 48-hour deadline to remove the outpost and evacuate the area.

For now, much to the dismay of many young Zionist activists, the Israeli government maintains a policy of not allowing any new settlements on what they consider to be privately owned Palestinian land.

Outposts are considered to be illegal and unauthorized settlements which are not sanctioned by the government unlike planned Israeli West Bank neighborhood settlements which do have the authorization and backing of the government.  

It’s also interesting to note that some outposts have eventually been given legitimization by the government after they received a new designation as being an adjunct of an existing legal settlement. Such outposts often enjoy the security of Israeli troops who end up protecting those areas.

It’s, therefore, easy to understand the frustration by individuals who promote the outpost/settlement ideology, because they feel that government authorization lacks a certain consistency or protocol. They claim that when it suits the government, there will be a justification to appropriate whatever area they choose to recognize as lawful, but when it doesn’t suit the government, an order to vacate is immediately set in motion.

While this may be true, one Israeli politician made it clear that anyone who attacks Israeli security forces attacks our country. The rule of law simply has to be observed whether it’s appreciated or not.