On Saturday night, 48 hours after three Israeli teens were kidnapped from the Etzion Bloc, the army issued an order barring Palestinians from entering West Bank settlements in the region, the military said Thursday.
The call was echoed by the Yesha Council of Settlements and extended to Jewish communities across the West Bank, creating discord among some settlers, who felt either that the measure was discriminatory or, over the course of the following days, that it was not being adhered to closely enough.
“The army gave an order to restrict access to Palestinians for security factors related to the kidnapping,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in response to a query from The Times of Israel.
By Monday, the spokesperson said, the army had rescinded the directive.
The army declined to explain how the entry and exit of Palestinian laborers, for instance, might impact the massive ongoing operation in the West Bank, in which security services are both searching for the three missing teens, Naftali Frankel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, and seeking to dismantle Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank.
The head of the Efrat Local Council, Oded Revivi, said the order was passed down from the top officer in the Central Command and that such directives are not entirely uncommon. For instance, on Independence Day and Remembrance Day, Efrat is instructed to bar entry to Palestinians on security grounds. Additionally, when there is a clear and defined threat of an attack, a similar routine is put into place.
Revivi informed both the settlement’s security personnel and contractors that the 1,000 Palestinian laborers would not be able to enter Efrat, a community of 10,000, on Sunday.
During the course of the day, though, he spoke with regional army officers and was told that the ban was issued not in order to keep the settlers safe, he said, but to ensure that settlers would not attack Palestinians — a rationale that Revivi called unacceptable and “a stain” on the settlement movement.
Moreover, he said he opposed the ban because, while some community leaders in the region said they would enforce it until the teens were returned home, he did not believe that it was a statement they would adhere to, and, he said, “I don’t think it’s right to punish a Palestinian population just because there’s some squad roaming around kidnapping kids from bus stops.”
On Monday, shortly before eight in the morning and after the army rescinded its order, he explained his rationale on Facebook: “It is simple to frighten, much harder to reassure… Quite simple to spread fear and terror, much harder to offer tranquility and peace of mind.”
Nearby, in Tekoa, the regional council adopted a more stringent line. “The barring of Palestinian workers to the communities in the regional council was enacted in order to prevent internal friction between the residents and the Palestinian workers,” Regional Council head Davidi Pearl wrote in a statement. “Additionally, its goal is to serve as a form of pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the residents of the area in order to bring about the extradition of the kidnappers and the swift return of the boys to their homes.”
A spokesman for the Yesha Council of Settlements said it was the first time such a move had been organized without a specific threat warning or national or religious holiday. “We did this as a sort of statement to the Palestinians,” he said.
One Tekoa resident, Yossi Templeman, who has lived in the Etzion region for 33 years, agreed. “This obviously has no connection at all with the race to find the kidnapped children, but to show it is not business as usual and to take out our anger and frustration.”
He said there were those who sought to emulate the nearby community of Bat Ayin, which has a standing policy of barring Arabs from entering the settlement, but that, since much of the settlement’s growth is contingent on Palestinian labor, “they do not want to score an own goal.”
Tekoa will be lifting the community-wide ban on Palestinians on Sunday.
Matanya Freund, a 32 year-old farmer from Tekoa — a settlement that is widely associated with the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, who devoted much of his life to interfaith dialogue — objected to the regional council’s week-long ban on several counts. First, he wrote in an email, “it’s illegal! If I were to sue the regional council for monetary losses on account of the move, it’s reasonable to believe that I would win.”
Second, he wrote, “the whole move is emotional, with no future. For how long will they bar entry to laborers? A day, a week, forever, until the kidnapped are returned? This is a joke that does not honor its crafters.”
Finally, he said that the message to Palestinians who work in settlements and were not allowed to enter throughout the week was “you are a dangerous Arab” in the eyes of the Jews, “and that is the worst problem.”
“Horizons,” he continued, “are created by hope and the common denominator among us is the desire to progress to a better future, and there is nothing in the council’s idiocy that advances that idea.”