The IDF unit turning ‘hilltop youth’ settlers into soldiers

12:00 May 3 2023 Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT) الأراضي الفلسطينية West Bank

The IDF unit turning ‘hilltop youth’ settlers into soldiers
The Desert Frontier army base. Published by 972Mag

An investigation by +972 and Local Call uncovers how Israeli settlers from violent outposts are being inducted into 'Desert Frontier' — a new military unit responsible for severe abuses of Palestinians across the West Bank.

By Yuval Abraham for 972Mag
May 3, 2023

On a wintery night in the northern Judean desert, a doorless Israeli military jeep pulled up to the campfire where Youssef Jalawi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from the Bedouin city of Rahat, was boiling tea with two Palestinian friends. The soldiers who got out of the jeep were wearing army uniforms, but they looked like members of the “hilltop youth” — the young, religious, violent settlers who regularly come down from their outposts in the occupied West Bank to attack nearby Palestinians.

Whether soldiers or settlers, Jalawi said the men in uniform started to abuse him: they bound him in handcuffs, pushed his head into the gravel with the soles of their shoes, and every time he fell they beat him and demanded he stand back up. They then put a gun to his head, telling him that they would kill him if he dared return to the desert. According to Jalawi, NIS 1,000 disappeared from his car that night — money he had planned to use to buy a gift for his young daughter.

Jalawi’s confusion over the identity of his attackers was well-founded: the young men who detained him were both soldiers and hilltop youth settlers. An investigation by +972 and Local Call reveals that 2.5 years ago, the Israeli military established a unit called “Desert Frontier” specifically for hilltop youth settlers, who make up the vast majority of the unit’s soldiers.

The investigation, based on the testimony of dozens of witnesses, reveals that what happened to Jalawi is not an isolated incident. +972 obtained evidence pointing to at least 11 other incidents in which soldiers from the unit allegedly attacked Palestinians. On April 30, a year and a half after submitting a complaint about the attack that occurred in November 2021, Jalawi received notice from the military prosecutor that the case was closed without any action being taken against the perpetrating soldiers.

A security official familiar with the incident told +972 on condition of anonymity that Desert Frontier, which was established in 2020 and is subordinate to the Jordan Valley Brigade, “consists mainly of hilltop youth … the extreme of the extreme, who otherwise would not have enlisted.” The idea, according to the official, is that serving in the unit is a way to rehabilitate them: “This unit is very unique. We take them and turn them into soldiers.”


Continue reading at 972Mag News

A version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Yuval Abraham is a journalist and activist based in Jerusalem.
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