A few weeks ago, The Jewish Press reported that the IDF ordered the temporary expulsion of Neriyah Zaroge, a young married settler, from his home on an isolated hilltop, Kumi Ori, near the settlement of Yitzhar. Since then, the order has become a source of almost daily friction – even violence – between idealistic teenagers and soldiers, eliciting calls from the Left to expel all of Yitzhar’s over 300 families.
To learn more, The Jewish Press spoke with Yehuda Perl, a Yitzhar resident and editor of the Kol HaYehudi news website.
The Jewish Press: How would you describe Kumi Ori?
Perl: It’s a hilltop outpost of seven families that was established a few years ago. Many teenagers also live there in a dormitory, grazing sheep, working the fields, and generally guarding the area from Arab poachers.
What happened after IDF Central Commander Nadav Feden signed the temporary expulsion order against Neriyah Zaroge?
Many people protested the injustice of the action, which they felt was designed to intimidate young people who settle barren hilltops in the region to strengthen the Jewish presence in Samaria.
Several rabbis and Cabinet Minister Bezalel Smotrich requested that the order be canceled. The governing committee of Yitzhar even warned the IDF command that it would cease cooperating with the army if the expulsion order were carried out.
Settlers demonstrated outside the Samaria IDF Headquarters and outside the home of General Feden. Zaroge declared that he would ignore the military order, which had no court authorization. Another resident of Kumi Ori, David Hasdi, was issued a similar expulsion command.
What led to the ensuing violence?
Arabs from nearby villages and anarchists from radical leftist groups used the situation to incite provocations. Followed by cameramen, they converged on a Jewish olive grove near Yitzhar, claiming it was situated on Arab property.
Residents of Yitzhar chased them away with a little pushing and shoving, but the media reported that the protesters were beaten by the settlers. Afterward, a fire was ignited in a nearby Arab grove, presumably by Jews. An hour later, a platoon of soldiers arrived at Kumi Ori, broke into a home, and violently arrested a teenager who lived there. The soldiers handcuffed him and dragged him to a jeep outside.
During his investigation, he demanded that the police investigate the violence of the soldiers. The court ordered his release when it became clear that there was no proof of his involvement in the fire.
Let’s not be naive. The hilltop youth know that if they play cat-and-mouse games with the army, they aren’t going to be treated with velvet gloves.
If the army expects them to abide by the law, the army has to abide by the law as well. The media too. Days before, when the small hilltop outpost of Shevach HaAretz was dismantled not far from Kumi Ori, a reporter for Channel 13 tweeted that the hilltop youth threw stones and the army responded with tear gas. Pure fantasy.
The Yitzhar leadership and Yosi Degan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, tried to lessen growing tensions, but the army – on Shabbat – brought the police to arrest a resident of Yitzhar, who was later released from jail when the Honenu organization filed a protest.
On the night of Hoshana Rabba, teenagers from Kumi Ori wrestled with IDF soldiers who showed up looking for suspects. The tires of an army vehicle were set on fire. Golani soldiers attempted to arrest several youngsters and fired shots in the air over their heads, which further inflamed the situation. The hilltop youth threw stones at the soldiers who responded with tear gas bombs. A soldier was lightly wounded and treated on site.
Is battling with IDF soldiers wise?
When tensions break out and tempers fly out of control, everyone stops thinking. In the minds of the residents of Kumi Ori, they are defending their homes and the right of the Jewish people to dwell in the Jewish homeland without restriction.
The contrast between the joy on Simchat Torah in Yitzhar and the government siege of Kumi Ori on the chag was almost surreal.
Israel is often a land of surreal contrasts. During the night of the holiday, a large Border Police unit arrived and declared Kumi Ori a closed military area. They declared that come Motzei Simchat Torah, all of the young people had to evacuate the area, and only the families could remain. Then, without waiting for the chag to end, soldiers started to arrest teenagers who live in a dormitory on the outpost.
Residents of Yitzhar were prevented from approaching. Whoever tried to reach the outpost under siege was met with a blast of pepper gas. When Simchat Torah ended, the Border Police presented the residents of Kumi Ori with a military closure order and soldiers occupied the vacated dormitory.
Army tents were set up near the dormitory, and a new army base was established in Samaria – IDF Base Kumi Ori.
That’s an achievement.
A dubious achievement in the eyes of the residents. Early in the morning, an empty army tent was set ablaze. I think everyone agrees that such an act crossed all permissible borders. On the other hand, one can understand the frustration of the teenagers who find themselves harassed, beaten, arrested, and jailed by large forces of soldiers and police.
Anyone with a clear head can see that the overblown and violent actions of the army triggered the irresponsible reactions of the young people. Without a responsible adult in control of the outpost, and without responsible leaders in the army echelon and government, conflicts like these are bound to reoccur.