Dozens of Border Police officers descended on the Yitzhar settlement Thursday morning to facilitate the razing of two structures in a nearby illegal outpost, as tensions remained high in the area following several instances of violence involving local teens.
The wooden buildings were erected last week on a hilltop settlers call Shevah Ha’aretz that is in Area B of the West Bank — beyond the boundaries of Israeli civil control. It is also adjacent to the Kumi Ori outpost, whose largely teenage residents have been involved in a pair of clashes in the past week with IDF troops.
The Yitzhar secretariat blasted the Thursday operation, calling it a “violent move that harms its efforts to restore calm.”
“The community expressed its staunch position against harming soldiers, and precisely because of this, the decision to demolish buildings as an act of punishment is a devastating and unacceptable act. Such a step only stirs tensions, rather than easing them,” the settlement said.
A defense official told the Kan public broadcaster in response that the Yitzhar leadership was “stoking the flames.”
Thursday’s demolitions were carried out by the Civil Administration, a Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing construction in the West Bank, which has carried out a number of enforcement acts in recent weeks in the area to crack down on illegal building.
The Civil Administration operation come against the backdrop of a particularly tense several weeks in Yitzhar and the surrounding illegal outposts.
Earlier this month, one of the residents of the flashpoint Kumi Ori outpost, 21-year-old Neri Zoreg, was issued an administrative order barring him from the West Bank due to what security officials say was his involvement in violent attacks on Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. Zoreg has asserted that he does not take part in such attacks. He has decided to remain in the outpost in violation of the order and has enjoyed the backing of the broader Yitzhar leadership, which warned that issuing the order would lead to unrest.
The Kan public broadcaster reported that the settlement’s secretariat expressed its frustration with the move by cutting off contact with the IDF’s top brass.
Last Wednesday, a teen resident of Kumi Ori was arrested by security forces on suspicion that he tried to burn down a Palestinian-owned field. The boy’s attorney and residents of the outpost have claimed that officers used unnecessary force to detain the suspect.
Two days later, an IDF officer conducting a drill near the settlement was threatened and harassed by another area hilltop youth, who attempted to enter the vehicle of the Golani Brigade commander. Two hours later, the officer returned to the scene and arrested the suspect.
Early Sunday morning, a Golani squad patrolling through Kumi Ori came under attack by a group of 30 hilltop youths, who hurled stones at the soldiers and slashed the tires of their jeep. One soldier was lightly injured and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment.
The incident was widely condemned by politicians across the political spectrum and the settlement’s leadership vowed to bar the youths involved from continuing to reside in the surrounding outposts. It was not immediately clear, however, whether they have left.
Settler leaders also condemned the violence, but a senior IDF official who spoke to Haaretz Tuesday on the condition of anonymity said that the West Bank mayors only speak out when the violence targets soldiers, as opposed to Palestinians, who are targeted more frequently. The official added that settler leaders have placed heavy pressure on the government to prevent law enforcement from acting with an iron fist against hilltop youth, “thereby undermining the army’s status in the territories and enabling violence against members of the security services.”
On Sunday, a Border Police battalion was ordered to take up position near the Yitzhar settlement as a deterrent against further violent activities by residents of the outposts in the area. The border guards were similarly deployed in April 2014, after a string of attacks and acts of vandalism from the Yitzhar settlement and surrounding outposts, including one case in which residents attacked an IDF encampment.
But less than 48 hours after the first clash with troops, a group of 10 settlers again threw rocks and bottles of paint at Border Police in the same area on Monday evening. One soldier was reportedly hit by a rock but did not require medical treatment, and the army dispersed the rioters using stun grenades.
זה מה שעבר אתמול על לוחמי משמר הגבול בגזרת יצהר. הארוע הסתיים ללא עצורים. pic.twitter.com/k2LNLzJln6
— Or Heller אור הלר (@OrHeller) October 22, 2019
By Tuesday, the IDF extended for an additional month a closed military zone order over Kumi Ori that had been declared earlier in the week, meaning only residents would be allowed to enter and exit the outpost. Border Police leaked footage to the media of young Kumi Ori residents cursing at soldiers as they handed down the order. Tensions escalated and one of the teens appears to be seen picking up a rock, at which point an officer cocks his weapon at the teens and shouts at them to disperse.
Later Tuesday evening, Kan reported that police have identified suspects in the first attack on Golani troops and may carry out arrests in the coming days.