Settlers said the army seizure of Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva in Yitzhar was an unprecedented act of theft and defilement of a holy space. The IDF took the yeshiva on Friday morning in retribution for violent attacks against the army by members of the West Bank hilltop community.
A battalion of border police is now stationed in the large stone structure, typically used for prayer and religious study. A video released by the yeshiva showed the officers entering the building and placing barbed wire around it.
It is the first time the IDF has transformed a yeshiva into an army base. The move marks the harshest measure to date the army has taken against extremist Jewish violence in the West Bank. “This is a hysterical and historic step that is unprecedented in the nation’s history,” a Yitzhar spokesman said. “This is a clear crossing of lines. Would a mosque that calls day and night for Israel’s destruction be treated this way?”
The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria, including the head of the Samaria Regional Council, Gershon Mesika, are planning to meet Sunday morning with OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon to discuss the seizure. But they have not issued a public comment on the matter.
Right-wing activist and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, who represents some of the people in Yitzhar, said such theft and expropriation would only encourage further “price tag” acts of revenge and is likely to only further inflame an already volatile situation. “Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is acting like an elephant in a china shop,” he said.
The Yitzhar spokesman called on the IDF to withdraw the border police and return the building to the Yitzhar community.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office said the building was seized “in light of the violent actions against security forces in the last days and to meet security needs.
“The IDF views the violence over the last days very seriously because it harms the rule of law. It is using all its resources to end the violence,” the spokesman said.
“The yeshiva was chosen following operational considerations, due to its role as a forward base for the carrying out of violent activities against surrounding [Palestinian] villages and security forces,” an army source said Friday.
Police in the past have investigated the head of Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, because he helped author a book, Torat Hamelech (“The King’s Torah”), that discussed the legal question of whether it is permissible for Jews to behave violently toward non- Jews during wartime. Police feared the religious views expressed in the book could be one of the philosophical bases for acts of retribution against Palestinians.
The attorney-general, however, closed the case against him.
A spokesman for Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva said Friday, “this is the first time in the nation’s history that the State of Israel has closed a seminary where the Torah is studied just because of the type of Torah that is studied there.
“According to Jewish law transforming a yeshiva into an army base is a desecration is a defilement of a holy space,” he said.
He added that he believed the yeshiva would overcome the seizure of its building as it had other problems in the past. The yeshiva was initially housed by Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus but was forced to relocate to Yitzhar after the second intifada began in 2000.
But MK Omar Bar-Lev (Labor) said the seizure was a positive development. “It’s the first step toward rooting out the problem.”
This particular yeshiva, he said, “has become a symbol of the situation and has fostered an entire generation of law-breakers.”
The seizure of the yeshiva comes at the tail end of a week of spiraling violence that began when a settler slashed the tire of an IDF jeep in Yitzhar last Sunday. The IDF responded by demolishing four illegal buildings in Yitzhar on Monday night.
Violent clashes followed in which scores of settlers burned tires and threw rocks in protest, lightly wounding six officers. A group of 50 to 60 settlers also demolished an IDF post in Yitzhar that housed six reservist soldiers who stood idly by during the demolition.
“They [the reservists] are trained to protect them [the settlers], not to confront them,” a security source said last week, in an attempt to explain the passive response. “The soldiers are not ready to take on a group of 50 to 60 Yitzhar residents, the very people they were sent to defend.”
After the post was destroyed, the IDF canceled a Passover festival the Samaria Regional Council had scheduled to hold on the ruins of the former Homesh settlement.
Police last week arrested nine people in connection with the violent attacks against the IDF, of whom only one is still in jail. Ben-Gvir said that he represented one of the men who was arrested. He said the charges against his client were thrown out when it was proven that he was not at the scene. He added that charges were also dropped against four others for lack of proof.
“What I understand from this is that they are arresting people just to show that they are doing something,” he charged.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and President Shimon Peres have all condemned the settler attacks on the IDF post.
Ya’alon has spoken particularly harshly against the violence in Yitzhar. Three times last week, including on Thursday, he called the settlers who participated in the attack terrorists.
“From my perspective, this is terrorism. We need to treat these events as terrorist acts,” said Ya’alon on Thursday after holding security consultations. It was during those consultations that the decision to seize the yeshiva was made.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.