Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday expressed his support for his defense minister, after Likud ministers and others on the right-wing lashed out at Moshe Ya’alon for the evacuation of two buildings in Hebron that had been occupied by Jewish settlers a day earlier.
“I support settlement, and appreciate the settlers who every day stand against terrorism with courage and determination,” Netanyahu said from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Channel 10 reported. But, he added, “we are all required to respect the law.”
Border Police forces evacuated several dozen Jewish settlers from the two houses on Friday morning, a day after they entered the buildings, claiming they had bought them from Palestinians.
Ya’alon earlier Friday brushed off the criticism, saying the “intruders” had acted in “brazen” breach of the law, and he urged lawmakers to calm their fiery rhetoric on the matter.
“The State of Israel is a nation of laws, and I have no intention of compromising when the law is broken,” Ya’alon said in a statement. “In the case of the homes in Hebron, the law was brazenly broken. In order to occupy a house one must carry out several legal steps, none of which were carried out here. For this reason, the intruders were evacuated.”
The Jewish Home party, in a statement, called the decision to evacuate the homes “irresponsible, bullheaded and inflammatory.” It castigated Ya’alon’s focus on alleged settler breaches of the law at a time when Israel was being targeted by Palestinian terrorism.
Three Knesset members from the Likud and Jewish Home threatened to boycott coalition votes unless the settlers were allowed to return to the buildings. Other Likud lawmakers were also critical of the move. Likud Ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin protested the evacuation, and Levin said he wanted Sunday’s cabinet meeting to approve the return of the settlers to the buildings.
Ya’alon panned the storm of criticism that erupted on the right after news of the evacuation broke.
“I call on the ministers, Knesset members and elected officials to act responsibly, to restrain their remarks and to support the rule of law, and not to encourage (individuals) to take the law into their own hands and break it,” said Ya’alon, himself a Likud MK, calling such behavior “a surefire recipe for anarchy.”
He added: “The conduct and statements of several politicians on this matter borders on wild abandon and damages our national fortitude.”
Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabay (Kulanu) backed Ya’alon, saying the issue at hand was “whether the rule of law is obligating or only a suggestion to be winked at.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said the right’s attacks on Ya’alon “prove that it is not the security of Israel they value, but an ideology that will lead to one state at the cost of Israel, its security and the rule of law.”
She added that “Judea and Samaria will not be the Wild West ruled by the hilltop youth” — a reference to radicalized young settler activists.
The military has now forbidden entry into the buildings, and guards have been posted outside to prevent anyone from going in.
The settlers entered the homes near the Tomb of the Patriarchs on Thursday, using crowbars to break in, and raising the Israeli flag on the roof. They claimed the homes were secretly bought from the Palestinian owners.
Palestinians said the buildings were taken over illegally and they clashed with the settlers. The riots were broken up by security forces.
Judah Ari Gross and Lee Gancman contributed to this report.