IDF bracing for more Hebron violence

Thousands of Jews expected to descend on W. Bank city in honor of Shabbat reading of Chayei Sarah.

Hebron building 248.88 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Hebron building 248.88
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Security forces were bracing for more violence in Hebron Friday as thousands of Jews were expected to descend on the West Bank city for Shabbat in honor of the reading of the Torah portion that describes Abraham's purchase of the Cave of the Patriarchs (Chayei Sarah). Tensions were already high in the city following clashes between right-wing activists and security personnel overnight Wednesday and the authorization by the High Court of Justice for the IDF to evacuate a disputed building, known as Beit Hashalom. The reading of the portion is particularly poignant for settlers since the controversy surrounding the disputed four-story structure is also an issue of land ownership, just like the Cave of the Patriarchs. The IDF has already said that there will be no evacuation this week due to the festivities. Following Wednesday night's violence, a senior officer in the IDF Central Command said that the defense establishment would respond harshly to attacks by far-right activists in Hebron. "Violence against security forces cannot be allowed to continue," the officer said. "We will respond with the means that are at our disposal." On Thursday, Rabbi Col. Moshe Hagar-Lau, a battalion commander in reserve duty and head of the Yatir pre-military yeshiva academy in the South Hebron Hills, speaking from Hebron, said that any attempt to forcibly evacuate settlers from the disputed building in the city would be met with severe violence. "The political echelon has no mandate to do anything controversial right now," Hagar-Lau said. "If [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak tries to expel settlers from Beit Hashalom it will be a disaster. Amona [in Samaria in 2006, where more than 300 people were injured, most of them protesters] will be nothing compared to this." During the overnight clashes, one soldier was wounded by turpentine poured on his face by activists staying inside the disputed Hebron building. The settlers and activists clashed with Palestinian villagers, slashed the tires of police and IDF patrol vehicles and scrawled "Muhammad is a Pig" on the wall of a village mosque and on gravestones in a Muslim cemetery. The settlers also stoned the commander of the Givati infantry brigade's Shaked Battalion, a lieutenant-colonel, when he arrived at Beit Hashalom. The senior Central Command officer said the rioters also damaged a military security camera deployed on the roof of the disputed four-story building as well as the Kiryat Arba security fence. Hagar-Lau denounced the settlers' attacks on IDF soldiers. He said that "fringe elements" were responsible. "People from outside the Jewish community in Hebron are responsible for those acts," Hagar-Lau said. "I can tell you that people from Beit Hashalom are on good terms with Sheikh Jabri of Hebron [head of the largest clan in the city]. Members of the Jewish community met this week with the sheikh. "The problem is that Barak seems to be purposely trying to cause a confrontation with the settlers. He is hurting politically right now so he is trying to earn points by clashing with Jews in Hebron. "On the same day [last month] that he brought into Hebron 500 armed Palestinian policemen he brutally tore down the Federman Farm. Coincidentally, or maybe not, a supposed settler starting screaming to kill IDF soldiers. Maybe the guy was planted, maybe he is just crazy. But people like him undermine the settler cause." Hagar-Lau was referring to a settler who was present during the evacuation of the Federman Farm and said he hoped IDF soldiers would "fall before their enemies" and that all of them would be like the Armored Corps' St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who is being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The overnight clashes came after the IDF decided not to evacuate Beit Hashalom, fearing extreme violence. Previously, it was expected that the IDF would immediately force out the nine families who lived there once the court-ordered deadline for their voluntary exit expired on Wednesday morning. But officials said Thursday that they had decided to postpone the evacuation and that it will now likely be carried out sometime in the next month. More families and singles moved into the structure ahead of the deadline. The Central Command officer expressed concern that the clashes would continue until the evacuation take place. He said that most of the rioters were youths who did not live in Hebron but had come to beef up the resistance in the disputed building. On Thursday, top IDF commanders spoke with Hebron's official Jewish leadership and urged them to remove the radical elements from the Jewish community to prevent further violence. "The local leadership is trying to stop what has happened," the top officer said. "Everyone knows that this type of violence is damaging for all of those involved."