The leadership of the hardline West Bank settlement of Yitzhar reportedly cut its communications with the entire upper echelon of Israel Defense Forces officials last week, before a series of violent riots that have seen settlers attack and injure soldiers.
Unrest between settlers and the military has escalated in and around Yitzhar since last Wednesday, with multiple incidents of rock-throwing and vandalism, as well as arrests of settlers and threats to senior commanders.
The Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday that less than 48 hours before Sunday morning clashes in which a soldier was struck by a rock, the Yitzhar secretariat issued a notice to residents saying the community was freezing its communications with the army over the latter’s refusal to cancel an order temporarily evicting one of the local residents from the settlement.
“Due to the fact that, unfortunately, the secretariat’s request from [head of the IDF’s Central Command Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan] to cancel the administrative order against Yitzhar resident Neria Zarog was not approved, the community is freezing the communication with the army — apart from emergencies — from the level of brigade commander and up until that situation is changed,” the statement said.
It added that the decision did not include the routine activities to secure the settlement’s security.
In its letter to Padan last month, the Yitzhar secretariat warned of “unrest” if he doesn’t overturned his decision to sign off an administrative order barring 21-year-old Zarog from most of the West Bank for three months, pending a hearing. 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.
According to a defense official who spoke last month 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. Zarog has denied participating in such activities.
Zarog has refused to leave the area despite the order against him and was seen Monday night in Yitzhar dancing with Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan at a religious event.
הקפות שניות ביצהר התקיימו הערב בשני מוקדים. אחד במוצב הצבאי יחד עם לוחמי גולני, השני בישיבת ״עוד יוסף חי״. בתמונה: ראש המועצה יוסי דגן (לצדו של מפר הצו המנהלי נריה זארוג), בחר את האפשרות השניה pic.twitter.com/03JOo2qqlU
— רועי שרון Roy Sharon (@roysharon11) October 21, 2019
His fate appears to be at the root of the current unrest.
A pair of arrests last week further angered hardline residents of Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts — the first on Wednesday, when security forces nabbed a teenager suspected of starting a fire in a Palestinian-owned field located near his home. The minor’s attorney claimed the arresting officer from the Golani brigade had used unnecessary force in apprehending his client, who was released two days later to house arrest.
That evening, a second teen was arrested in the Yitzhar area after the army said he had threatened Golani infantry brigade commander Lieutenant-Colonel Ayoub Kayouf.
The military said that the incident was taken care of with the cooperation of the Israel Police and local settler leadership, leading to the arrest of the youth.
While there had been reports that the Yitzhar youth had assaulted Kayouf, the leadership of the settlement reiterated in a statement that there was no suspicion that the minor had physically attacked the officer, and touted its cooperation with the authorities. The statement railed at the timing of the arrest — on Friday night, during the Jewish Sabbath — calling it “a gross violation of individual rights as well as the sanctity of Shabbat.”
Also on Wednesday, Israeli rights groups reported that a gang of masked settlers armed with crowbars violently assaulted a group of activists, among them an 80-year-old rabbi, who were assisting Palestinian farmers in the northern West Bank with their harvest.
The situation escalated overnight Saturday, when some 30 settlers hurled stones at troops and punctured tires of military vehicles in the Kumi Ori outpost next to Yitzhar, according to the IDF. One soldier was lightly injured by a rock and received medical treatment at the scene, the military said.
The army responded by using riot dispersal means and firing in the air. No arrests were announced.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, and politicians and other officials from both sides of the political divide denounced the violent incident. Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz on Monday demanded a powerful Knesset committee convene to address the attack on soldiers by settlers, calling it “terror in the full sense of the word.”
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, Kan reported. 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.
On Tuesday, the IDF extended for an additional montha closed military zone order Kumi Ori that had been declared earlier in the week, meaning only residents would be allowed to enter and exit the outpost.
In addition, the Civil Adminsitration, which authorizes construction beyond in the settlements, issued several orders against illegal buildings in the nine outposts surrounding Yitzhar, warning that they have been mapped for demolition. The razing of Israeli homes by the Defense Ministry body is rare and can take years to occur, but the administrative order is the first step in that process.
Multiple settler leaders on Sunday denounced the violence and attempted to disown it, claiming that it had been instigated by teenagers who had mostly come from outside Yitzhar and don’t represent local residents. The Yitzhar secretariat said it would take action to kick them out.
However, less than 48 hours after those clashes, on Monday evening, a group of 10 settlers again threw rocks and bottles of paint at Border Police in the same area.
One soldier was reportedly hit by a rock but did not require medical treatment, and the army dispersed the rioters using stun grenades, according to Hebrew-language media reports.
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