Hundreds of security forces descend on Yitzhar-area outposts to raze 6 buildings

One of structures is in West Bank Area B and belongs to an extremist who rebuilt it after troops flattened it in January; officers arrest him for refusing to evacuate

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Border Police arrive at a home slated for demolition in the Kumi Ori outpost on April 22, 2020. (Courtesy)
Border Police arrive at a home slated for demolition in the Kumi Ori outpost on April 22, 2020. (Courtesy)

Hundreds of Israeli security personnel descended on several outposts outside of the flashpoint Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank early Wednesday morning to demolish six illegally built structures.

Four of the buildings were located in the Kipa Sruga and Tekuma outposts in Area C, and two were in Kumi Ori in Area B, according to a spokesman for the Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction. Three of the structures served as family homes.

According to the Oslo Accords, Area B is defined as West Bank territory under Palestinian civil jurisdiction and Israeli security control. Area C is under both the security and civil control of the Israeli military, and all settlements are located in this territory, which makes up roughly 60 percent of the West Bank.

While the Oslo Accords bar Israelis from building in Area B, the residents of Kumi Ori, where only a handful of families live along with several dozen far-right activists known as hilltop youth, have long flouted those laws.

One of the two homes demolished in Kumi Ori belonged to the family of Neria Zarog, a “violent extremist” who has inspired attacks against Palestinians and Israeli forces alike, according to a security official who spoke to The Times of Israel last year.

Zarog rebuilt his home almost immediately after it was razed for its lack of permits in January, a Civil Administration spokesman said.

Zarog was arrested on Wednesday for “refusing to evacuate” the scene in order for the security forces to raze his home, a Border Police spokesman said,

The January razing of Zarog’s home took place a week after the High Court of Justice rejected a petition in which he argued that Israel has no right to demolish a structure in Area B because the territory is under the civil control of the Palestinian Authority.

Civil Administration officers demolish a home in the Kumi Ori outpost on April 22, 2020. (Avraham Shapira/Yitzhar)

The court ruled that while Israel does not have authority to grant building permits in that area, it can demolish illegal homes built by Israelis there.

According to a Yitzhar settlement spokesman, Zarog’s wife is nine months pregnant, but officers at the scene were refusing to assist her.

A security official at the scene who requested anonymity said that the claim was entirely false and that the officers had “sensitively removed her from the home and even gave her the option of being evacuated from the scene in one of the security forces’ vehicles. She refused and at her request is currently sitting on the ground next to the structure being destroyed,” he said, also providing a photo of a Border Police officer offering the woman water.

A Border Police officer offers water to a woman during a demolition in the Kumi Ori outpost on April 22, 2020. (Courtesy)

A statement from the Yitzhar settlement condemned the demolition, and blasted the government for green-lighting it in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The settlement called the measure a “price tag,” a term that refers to vandalism and other hate crimes carried out by Jewish ultra-nationalists ostensibly in retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies perceived as hostile to the settler movement.

In the midst of the demolition, far-right activist-attorney Itamar Ben Gvir issued a statement saying that his legal assistant Hananel Dorfman had petitioned the High Court to compel the forces to halt the razing.

Dorfman argued that the Civil Administration action violated the Defense Ministry body’s own declaration earlier this month that it would refrain from demolishing populated structures for the duration of the pandemic.

However, that letter was in reference to Palestinian structures and it is not clear whether the officer who wrote it was referring to Israeli ones as well.

Moreover, the security official speaking to The Times of Israel explained that the policy does not apply “when security concerns arise or when there’s a need to maintain public order in the area.”

Border Police arrive at a home slated for demolition in the Kumi Ori outpost on April 22, 2020. (Courtesy)

Dorfman also argued that the two homes being demolished in Kumi Ori were owned by an American citizen and that the security forces do not have jurisdiction to operate against Area B property of someone who isn’t an Israeli.

The residents of Kumi Ori have found themselves in the headlines a number of times this year already.

Earlier this month, several of the far-right extremist teens residing there came in contact with a COVID-19 carrier and were ordered to go into isolation.

They were taken along with over a dozen of their peers to a quarantine hotel in Jerusalem, which they refused, according to a police spokesman. The group was then transferred to an alternative site in the Negev, but on the way wreaked havoc on the bus transporting them and attempted to flee the scene.

Civil Administration officers prepare to demolish a home slated for demolition in the Kumi Ori outpost on April 22, 2020. (Courtesy)

Eventually, the IDF agreed to establish an outpost for them in Metzoke Dragot, in the West Bank near the Dead Sea. The army supplied them with  a large tent where the teens slept, a Beit Midrash tent for religious study, a tent for them to prepare food, showers, outhouses and a generator.

Less than a week into their quarantine, three pair of Palestinians were attacked less than a quarter mile away from the site. Assailants hurled rocks at them, doused them with pepper spray and set their vehicles on fire before fleeing the scene.

Police have opened a probe into the  incident and were investigating whether the gasoline used to torch the Palestinian vehicles was the same fuel that the army had supplied the far-right activists to run the generator at their quarantine outpost. A gag order prohibits the publication of further developments regarding the case.

Late last month, Israelis hurled three Molotov cocktails at a Border Police vehicle just outside Yitzhar settlement.

Hilltop youth quarantining together in a tent provided by the IDF on April 7, 2020. (Courtesy)

No officers were injured in the incident, but damage was caused to the jeep, the Border Police said in a statement, labeling the ordeal a “terror attack.”

The troops had been leaving Yitzhar after operating in the area to enforce a closed military zone order Kumi Ori outpost just southwest of the settlement.

The order was put in place last October following a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and security forces perpetrated by a number of young settlers from the area. While a tense relative calm has largely held since then, the situation began spiraling in mid-March when settlers clashed with Border Police who arrived in Kumi Ori as locals were attempting to build a synagogue there.

Five Israelis were arrested on charges of assaulting officers and violating a closed military zone order, which allows only the seven families who are official residents of the outpost to be there.

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