Hardline settlement’s residents warn IDF of ‘unrest’ if it evicts their neighbor

Yitzhar locals receive support from Yamina minister Bezalel Smotrich, who urges PM not to issue administrative order barring Neria Zarog from West Bank for 3 months

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Neria Zarog (c) with his wife and child in front of their home in the Kumi Ori outpost, a neighborhood of the Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank. The IDF has issued an order barring him from the West Bank. (Avraham Shapira)
Neria Zarog (c) with his wife and child in front of their home in the Kumi Ori outpost, a neighborhood of the Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank. The IDF has issued an order barring him from the West Bank. (Avraham Shapira)

The leadership of a hardline settlement in the northern West Bank penned a letter to the head of the IDF’s Central Command on Tuesday, cautioning that if a decision to temporarily evict one of its residents isn’t overturned, it would cause “unrest.”

The warning from the Yitzhar secretariat to Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan came after the latter signed off an administrative order last week barring 21-year-old Neria Zarog from most of the West Bank for three months, pending a hearing.

According to a defense official who spoke to The Times of Israel on the condition of anonymity, Zarog is a “violent extremist well known to security forces” who has taken part in altercations against Palestinians as well as IDF troops.

The administrative order allows Zarog to reside in the Kochav Yaakov settlement where his parents live, but bars the married father of two from being in contact with 16 friends from Yitzhar.

View of the entrance to the northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. (Flash 90)

Zarog has yet to receive a final decision from the Head of the IDF’s Central Command regarding his fate.

In his own letter last Thursday to Padan after being notified of the administrative order, Zarog denied having taken part in so-called price tag attacks against Palestinians and their property that have become prevalent in recent years, particularly in the villages surrounding Yitzhar. Zarog maintained that “the real reason you’re issuing this administrative order against me is because of my efforts to build on the hilltops surrounding Yitzhar.”

Zarog is a shepherd living in the illegal Kipa Sruga outpost, a southern neighborhood of the Yitzhar settlement whose residents have clashed with IDF troops several times in the past.

“Every day, I go out with my flock around the Kipa Sruga hilltop in order to stop the Arab takeover of the open land there — a takeover that is part of the process of establishing the foundations of a Palestinian state which is on the way,” he wrote to Padan.

Zarog told the Ynet news site that he has not taken part in violent activities against Palestinians, but had been detained several times by Israeli security forces after approaching nearby villages with his flock.

Masked Israeli settlers from Yitzhar and soldiers watch after Palestinian fields were set on fire in the village of Asira al-Qiblyia on June 2, 2010. (Wagdi Ashtiyeh/Flash90)

On Saturday evening, dozens of Yitzhar residents protested outside Padan’s home in the central town of Modiin. Two of the demonstrators were briefly detained for violating public order.

In their Tuesday letter to Padan, the Yitzhar secretariat wrote: “Unfortunately, as long as a deportation order against the Zarog family is in force, this will cause a lot of unrest among our public and therefore we will not be able to continue promoting cooperation and discourse [with you].”

Zarog also received support on Monday from Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the Yamina party, who penned a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to order the cancellation of the administrative order.

In the letter, Smotrich criticized the use of “draconian” administrative orders against settlers, which he argued rob them of due process.

“To the extent that it’s decided to use these order, they should be given sparingly, and only in clear scenarios of a ‘ticking time-bomb’ — where terrorists defined as the enemy are seeking to carry out attacks and that imminently threaten Israel’s security. They certainly should not be issued against citizens of the state who are settling the Land of Israel with devotion,” Smotrich said.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a URWP party conference in Lod, July 22, 2019. (Flash90)

The hardline minister, who lives in the nearby settlement of Kedumim, called on the IDF to come forward with evidence that Zarog has taken part in violent activities, which it did not do in its administrative order.

The defense official who spoke to The Times of Israel defended the use of administrative orders, saying they are issued against “violent and dangerous activists to prevent them from taking action that would jeopardize the security of  the area.”

Since the beginning of 2019, the Shin Bet security agency has recorded 25 price tag attacks carried out by Israeli extremists along with 140 other “violent instances,” dozens of which were aimed against security forces.

For the past several years, Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts have also been seen by the security establishment as an epicenter of settler violence and have often been linked to attacks on Palestinians and their property.

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