Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich came under fire from the Right on Monday for allowing security forces to demolish illegally built homes on private Palestinian property in the A’yira Shahar outpost in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.
“It was an enormous mistake to sign the demolition orders,” Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu (Otzma Yehudit) told KAN News, adding that he had spoken with those close to Smotrich to better understand his position.
“I spoke with his people,” Eliyahu said. “I think we have to authorize these things,” [and] one has to be “smart here.”
It was an unusual position for Smotrich, who typically angers the centrist Right, the Center, and the Left of the political spectrum with his statements, particularly with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Smotrich has long supported Jewish construction everywhere in the “Land of Israel,” including the West Bank, which he refers to as Judea and Samaria.
Although Smotrich is the finance minister, he also holds a ministerial position in the Defense Ministry, and as such, has oversight with regard to the demolition of illegal buildings in Area C of the West Bank.
In an interview with KAN News, Smotrich downplayed the significance of the demolition, acknowledging that the Civil Administration had taken down homes that had recently been built.
“Some new homes were destroyed today that had been put up on private land that belongs to Arabs,” he said.
Smotrich’s office said the homes had been put up in recent months. The Civil Administration has much more leeway to move against newly built homes.
“We want to settle everywhere in the Land of Israel, but there is a law and restrictions,” Smotrich said.
“We are in a situation where we have a government that supports the settlements,” he said, adding that “a demolition is never good.”
Smotrich is such a strong advocate for Jewish construction in Area C of the West Bank that those on the extreme Right tempered some of their criticism, with Eliyahu saying he believed Smotrich’s “heart was in the right place.”
Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, who went to the outpost immediately after the demolitions, told Radio FM 103: “It is clear to me that Bezalel, from what I know of his struggles, tried to prevent this. But there is a war here on the ground and at the political levels. There are those who seek time and time again to destroy and destroy the settlements.”
She disputed the claim that the homes were built on private Palestinian property, saying such claims were also not so relevant.
Both Son Har-Melech and Eliyahu connected the issue to illegal Palestinian building. The Left has claimed that the two issues cannot be conflated because Palestinian building projects are rarely approved.
But Son Har-Melech and Eliyahu said Smotrich’s focus should have been on razing such homes, rather than going after Jewish families in the outpost.
“There can’t be a situation where illegal Palestinian outposts can stay, but Jewish outposts will be removed,” Eliyahu said.
The test for Smotrich is not this evaluation, but whether “he can equally apply the law,” he said.
The A’yira Shahar outpost is located on the outskirts of the Kochav Hashahar settlement. The Civil Administration together with Border Police officers arrived at the site before dawn.
Some right-wing activists at the site attempted to stop the evacuation, yelling slurs and throwing stones at Border Police officers. One of the protesters was arrested.
Angry outpost residents said Smotrich had “continued the former government’s tradition of harming Jewish settlement and destroying homes.”
Statements by the outpost's rabbi
Rabbi Ohad Karakover, who lives in Kochav Hashahar, said: “It has been a very difficult morning for the people of Israel.”
Security forces “destroyed the homes of several families here, and why?” he asked in a video posted on X (formerly Twitter) by an Arutz 7 reporter. “There are empty barren lands here where people come and with great dedication, love, gentleness, and nobility settle in the Land of Israel. Why are they destroying it? So that Arabs will come here?
"They destroyed the homes of several families here, and why?"Rabbi Ohad Karakover
“Anyway whoever has a Jewish heart has to rise up and protest the obvious injustice of destruction for the sake of destruction,” Karakover wrote.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.