By Julie Webb-Pullman
In what can be interpreted as a clear admission that Israeli state institutions are not up to the task, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has admitted it is training settlers in occupied Palestinian territory, and arming them with stun grenades, tear gas, and other weaponry “to handle any unrest which breaks out during the UN campaign.” (Maan News/AFP, August 31)
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported the information is contained in a military document in their possession. (Haaretz, August 30)
The training of civilian vigilantes by the Israeli state to deal with proposed peaceful Palestinian protests within their own territory is not only an excess of florid paranoia, but an unmistakable sign to the international community that the Israeli government has no faith in the state’s organs’ ability to maintain the peace – either within its own territory, or that which it illegally occupies.
It also signals a cynical move to the tactics more commonly found in Latin America, where governments arm and train civilians to do their dirty work for them, in an attempt to avoid criminal and moral sanctions after the fact, given that non-state forces commit the atrocities.
If the ‘intelligence’ on which the IDF is relying to justify its fear of ‘unrest’ is as reliable as that which led it to blame Gaza for the Eilat attacks, the perpetrators of which to date have all been identified as Egyptian citizens, then we have cause to seriously question the basis for the moves.
If the dramatic increase in 2011 in the number of attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property – 139 attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and the destruction of over 3,600 olive trees and vineyards documented in June alone – we have cause to seriously question the sagacity of trusting such a group with the task of maintaining public order, not to mention arming them with lethal weapons to do so.
If we consider that 90% of Israeli police investigations into Israeli settler crimes fail to lead to a prosecution, as reported in Ma’an, we have cause to seriously question the ability of Israeli institutions to guarantee the rule of law to even a minimal standard in the past, or its ability to do so in the future.
The usual scenario in a situation where a state cannot guarantee the safety and protection of its citizens and others for whom it is responsible, and where a significant proportion of them face real and imminent harm from armed and dangerous civilian gangs, is for the international community to provide peace-keeping forces from neutral countries. The Solomon Islands is a case in point.
Given the questionable success of previous peace-keeping missions in the Middle East, it is imperative that any such international force in OPTs be comprised of peace-keepers from countries within the non-aligned movement (NAM).
Israel must either immediately disarm its vigilante squads and guarantee the safety of each and every Palestinian in the OPT, or accept the presence of NAM peace-keeping forces within the OPTs, to guarantee the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians – safety and protection that Israel has shown itself abjectly unwilling and incapable of providing.
– Julie Webb-Pullman is a New Zealand activist and writer currently based in Gaza. She has written on social and political justice issues for New Zealand Independent News website SCOOP since 2003, as well as for websites in Australia, Canada, the US, and Latin America, and participated in several human rights observation missions. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published in Scoop: www.scoop.co.nz)