Public discussion since the start of Tzuk Eitan ignores the simple truth: residents of the south, in particular those in localities near Gaza, pay for the existence and continued expansion of the settlements.
The strident voices heard since the fighting began keep asking, “How could a terrorist organization have taken half the country hostage?”, but the speakers fail to see what has been true for decades: the settlement movement on the West Bank has held the entire country hostage. Frankenstein has overcome his creator.
Through the years Israeli governments of the right and of the left have held peace talks with the Palestinians. These talks collapsed one after the other, regardless of what was proposed: withdrawal from the entire West Bank; withdrawal from settlements outside of “settlement blocs;” withdrawal from isolated outposts; or even a freeze on building in and expanding settlements. Only recently, when the current government had to choose between a settlement freeze and releasing one thousand prisoners, it chose the latter option despite the danger to Israel’s security. Why? Because an Israeli government that wants to survive won’t confront the settlements. The opposite is true: to survive politically it will surrender to all their demands, bend laws on their behalf in contravention of all standards of good governance and will transfer to them a significant portion of the state’s resources, whether legally or under the table. It never misses an opportunity to do so.
While the army was fighting in Gaza and hundreds of families in nearby localities were forced to leave their homes, wander, seek temporary shelter without any help from the government, the Minister of Defense found time to launder an illegal outpost (Teqo’a D) and approve construction of 24 units in “Mevo’ot Teqo’a.” And that’s not all: while the fighting was underway the chair of the Knesset Financial Committee released the substantial sum of NIS 20 million from government coffers under the rubric of “social resilience.” Was the money transferred to the most needy groups in the population, the residents of localities near Gaza who lived on the front line and whose lives are daily in danger? Not at all. The money was transferred to the settlements, because the political base must be maintained even during wartime.
While every little outpost on the West Bank, whether legal, laundered or clearly illegal, benefits immediately upon its establishment from a significant investment in its security, including stationing of soldiers or funding for private security arrangements, the neglect of security arrangements for localities near Gaza has now become obvious.
It was recently reported that the IDF had long known about the existence of tunnels in Gaza, but did nothing until the moment that members of Hamas infiltrated through a tunnel to the vicinity of Kibbutz Sufa. All the attention and resources were directed to guarding the settlers. Tunnels were also dug on the West Bank, 100 percent Israeli, but for a different purpose: they created a system of over- and underpasses to separate Israeli and Palestinian vehicles. Apartheid in action.
But the neglect of the security needs of residents of the south who for more than fourteen years had been exposed to mortar and rocket attacks didn’t stop there:
For more than a dozen years a proposal has been languishing on the desks of decision-makers to develop the Skyguard system as a follow-up to Nautilus whose creators promise it will be able to protect localities near the border from rocket and mortar attacks. Despite the fact that Skyguard is the only way (other than war)to protect the localities near Gaza, no serious evaluation of the proposal has yet been carried out, nor are the relevant bodies prepared to allocate the necessary funds.
After the Home front Command decided in 2013 not to station soldiers for guard duty at localities near Gaza and elsewhere in the south, financing was subsequently canceled for civilian security coordinators in these localities and they lost their jobs. Even during the war the necessary funding wasn’t found to renew their positions. It was recently decided to fund full-time civilian security coordinators only in localities situated fewer than four kilometers from the border. Requests were also denied to provide protection for school buses, kindergartens and public buildings, as well as to provide mental health services for children in localities beyond seven kilometers from the Gaza strip. (Only recently, following public pressure, were NIS 3.5 million released for construction of prefabricated shelters for the protection of agricultural workers in the south.) The various government ministries did nothing since the war began to provide funds to meet the needs of residents of the south.
But the tightfistedness disappeared when settlements were involved:
In 2011 a plan was developed to protect settlements and outposts, at a cost of approximately one billion shekels. Protecting buses alone would cost NIS 10 million.
That is how the outrageous gap was created between the security and welfare of residents of localities near Gaza, the vast majority of whom live in agricultural kibbutzim and farm for a living, and that of the settlers, lords of the land suckling at the regime’s teats.
Not surprisingly, the criticism began even before the firing on the battlefield ended. This time anger focused on infantry units: “They didn’t function as expected. Their combat skills were insufficient.” If there’s any truth to the criticism, it’s because of their military experience: IDF soldiers in the occupied territories spend many months acting as policemen vis-à-vis Palestinians and responding to calls for assistance, justified or otherwise, from settlers. When you drive along the roads of the West Bank you see pairs of armed soldiers seated at hitchhiking stations, on the off-chance some settler chooses to wait there for a ride… (such “military service” has been common in the West Bank for a long time, long before the tragic murder of the three young men). As was recently reported, the long periods of service in the occupied territories have led to a significant reduction in infantry training, which reduces the units’ operational capabilities.
Outrageous criticism has recently been heard from right-wing spokesmen identified with the settlers against the “left-wing, defeatist” kibbutzniks who temporarily left their homes near Gaza instead of providing an “appropriate Zionist response” as they do in the occupied territories. These critics are very aware that on the day a government is formed whose members will display true leadership rather than focusing on their own personal political survival, a government prepared to courageously take the path of peace and withdraw from occupied territory for the good of all the country’s citizens, the kibbutzniks and all residents of the south will no longer have to abandon their homes and will enjoy the security and quiet they deserve after years being exposed to constant danger.
During the Tzuk Eitan operation we heard Netanyahu utter the phrase, “political horizon.” May we hope, this time, they’re not simply empty words? Might the unbelievable occur this time and the window of opportunity not close again, or will we all, north and south, continue paying the price of the settlements and spend our lives going from one military operation to the next, from one war to the next.