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Outsourcing the Occupation

Shir Hever’s "The Privatization of Israeli Security" is a study of the emergence of private military-security companies that began in Israel in the 1990s and continues today.

book cover

The Privatization of Israeli Security by Shir Hever, Pluto Press (2017)

That trend has implications for the future of both the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

An economic researcher and author of The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation (2010), Hever draws on the work of Israeli political scientist Neve Gordon, particularly Gordon’s book, Israel’s Occupation (2008), and the more recent analysis of Israel’s military-industrial complex by anthropologist Jeff Halper in his book, War Against the People (2015). Unlike these studies, however, Hever is singularly focused on privatization.

Between 1994 and 2006, five large military industries owned by the Israeli government were sold to private investors. During the same period, government strategists were developing a “core vs. periphery” concept in which they envisioned the government retaining ownership of functions central to the military while outsourcing responsibilities considered peripheral, such as the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Hever acknowledges that his most controversial conclusion is that Israel’s political leadership outsourced the occupation, which had been a core function of the Israeli military, to the Palestinian Authority following the 1993 Oslo accords. He recognizes the difficulties of characterizing the PA as a private firm. In addition, he notes that the Israeli military originally opposed outsourcing the occupation to the PA and has routinely attempted to discredit it as a security ally of Israel.

Proxy forces

Hever maintains that the creation of the South Lebanese Army in 1979, shortly after Israel’s 1978 invasion and subsequent occupation of southern Lebanon, laid the basis for the later decision to “outsource the occupation” in Palestine. The SLA was a proxy force for Israel designed to make it appear that the Lebanese population supported Israel’s occupation. Israel secretly trained, armed and paid SLA soldiers and officers.

Although Hever notes that the SLA was not officially a company, it was like a private military-security firm inasmuch as most lower-ranking SLA soldiers “were motivated by the employment opportunity rather than by ideology.”

The SLA paved the way for the second stage of Israel’s outsourcing of security, represented by the creation of the PA as part of the Oslo accords and the agreement to give the PA the limited role of maintaining security in some of the West Bank’s largest cities.

Hever acknowledges substantial differences between the SLA and the PA, notably that the SLA lacked legitimacy within Lebanon. Israel did not fund the PA. Nor did Israel train Palestinian security forces; the PA therefore has enjoyed a measure of legitimacy among Palestinians.

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However, because the PA lacks sovereignty, it inevitably became a tool of the Israeli occupation. Hever argues that this was the original aim of Israeli political leaders.

The Israeli military, however, resented this political decision and resisted the surrender of its authority over some cities in the West Bank. Unfortunately, Hever provides no documentation for this claim other than citing a study by Kobi Michael in Militarism and Israeli Society (2010).

Threatened by outsourcing, Hever writes, the Israeli army “used its professional authority and its ability to generate intelligence reports in order to attack the legitimacy of the PA in the eyes of the Israeli government, and pressured the Israeli government to authorize the use of lethal force against PA forces.”

As a result, the PA was “not completely subjugated to Israeli interests, and the PA did pursue policies which conflicted directly with Israeli interests,” Hever writes, citing the examples of the PA pursuing recognition as a state by the United Nations and its decision in 2009 to support the boycott of Israeli settlement products.

Nevertheless, Hever argues that the PA still performs security functions for Israel in the West Bank. And because the PA lacks both sovereignty and accountability to the Palestinian people, it has ended up playing a subcontractor role.

Occasionally, this role has been overt, as when political prisoners released by Israel have ended up as political prisoners held by the PA, leading to the organization being seen by many Palestinians as offering “incarceration services to the occupying Israeli government.”

US-Israeli occupation

In his chapter on “Outsourcing the Occupation,” Hever demonstrates that the most obvious example of privatizing the occupation came when Israel contracted with private companies to operate checkpoints in the “seam zone,” the areas adjacent to Israel’s illegal settlements or to the 1949 armistice boundary known as the Green Line.

Although checkpoints in Jerusalem continue to be operated by Israel’s Border Police and temporary checkpoints – also known as “flying checkpoints” – continue to be operated by the military, most of the seam zone checkpoints have been privatized.

The reason for this privatization, Hever argues, is to shield the Israeli government from criticism for any human rights violations committed at the privatized checkpoints. However, this argument is not documented with examples.

If it was Israel’s motive to evade responsibility, the goal has not been achieved. Many of the most notorious killings of Palestinians at checkpoints continue to be carried out by soldiers and Border Police and have been publicized by human rights monitors.

BDS activists will benefit greatly from the information in the chapter “Global Dimensions of Security Privatization in Israel,” which includes detailed case studies on the privatized security services offered to Israel by G4S and HP, both companies boycotted by the movement.

Moreover, Hever shows how increased US military aid to Israel has acted as an incentive for privatization.

The privatization trend within the US itself, which became glaringly obvious during its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, has likewise influenced Israeli leaders.

Like the US, where military and intelligence figures retire from government jobs and then move into lucrative posts with security companies, the creation of such firms has helped enrich Israeli military leaders who “have started to move in large numbers from state security organizations into private security companies,” according to Hever.

Hever’s research points to the need for more BDS campaigns that target the occupation’s enablers and the US funding that enriches so many in what is in fact the joint US-Israeli occupation of Palestine. For activists tracking the emergence of corporations that profit from the occupation, Hever’s book is a valuable resource.

Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and is active with the Occupation-Free Portland campaign.