Last Wednesday, January 15, Neriyah and Miriam Zaroge were awakened at five o’clock in the morning by a phone call from a friend, informing them that some 400 soldiers were heading toward their hilltop outpost, Kumi Ori, near Yitzhar, with an order from the Judea and Samaria Civil Military Administration to destroy their home.
“At the time, we were at my parents’ home,” Miriam Zaroge recounts. “Immediately, we dressed and headed for Yitzhar, leaving our two infants with my parents. When we reached the intersection before the road that leads up the mountain to the yishuv, we encountered an army roadblock, which prevented us from reaching our home before it was destroyed. An officer told us the area had been declared a closed military zone and refused to let us continue.
“My brother, Moshe Gozlan, who lives next door to our home, was ordered to leave his house with his wife and children. No one was there to help them – the army had surrounded our tiny hilltop neighborhood, and the nearby residents of Yitzhar weren’t allowed to come near. Arab workers removed all our furniture and belongings from my brother’s house and ours. Many items were broken. Then a bulldozer totally smashed the two buildings to the ground.”
Miriam’s husband, Neriyah, told The Jewish Press that the army hired Arabs to remove everything from the homes so Jewish soldiers wouldn’t have to perform the shameful task themselves. “At the same time that the army is sensitive to the feelings of its soldiers, its bulldozer is flattening our homes,” he said.
The story, which The Jewish Press has been following, began two-and-a-half years ago when the small Kumi Ori outpost was established on a desolate hilltop a short stroll from Yitzhar. As it turned out, the Zaroge and Gozlan families erected their tent-like dwellings in Area B, which, according to the Oslo Accords, is under the control of the Palestinian Civil Authority.
Declaring the building illegal, the Israel Civil Administration in the Territories under the jurisdiction of the IDF, destroyed the homes. Not about to forfeit what Miriam Zaroge calls, “the right of the Jewish people to live wherever they want in the Land of Israel,” the two families rebuilt their homes and continued to live there, grazing sheep and developing the area agriculturally.
They also petitioned the Supreme Court to prohibit the IDF Civil Administration from destroying their homes again, maintaining that Israel had transferred the civil jurisdiction of Area B to the Palestinian Authority, adding that Israel ignores extensive illegal Arab building in both Area B and Area C, which is completely under Israeli control.
Seven more families subsequently moved to Kumi Ori. Last year, Neriyah received a military administration order to vacate his home and keep away from Judea and Samaria on the grounds that he represented a danger to the security of the area. When he refused, he was arrested and put under military detention without the right to speak with a lawyer. After a wave of public protest, the Shabak offered to free him on condition that he not return to Kumi Ori. He refused.
“Eventually, the term of my ban from Yesha expired,” Neriyah explained. “I was let out of prison. I returned to Kumi Ori. When the court met to decide on our appeal against further demolition orders, it voted against us, declaring our building in Area B illegal. They said we needed the permission of the Palestinian Authority to live there, and if we insisted on living in Kumi Ori, we should go speak with them.”
“After the army demolished our homes, we weren’t allowed to approach the area until the military closure was lifted several days later,” Miriam relates. “What a heartbreak to see your home scattered in splinters on the ground, with your clothes in garbage bags and your furniture in the rain. I held my baby in my arms and cried. Our two-and-a-half-year-old stood in wonder. It looked like some giant monster had stomped on our home. How do you explain to a child that a Jewish government in the Jewish homeland destroyed the homes of Jews? I hope he is too young to understand.
“Right now, we are homeless. The military quarantine has been lifted, but the rainy weather hasn’t allowed us to begin rebuilding. The army let us salvage what we could, but when they saw that we erected a tent and were planning to move back, they shut down the area once again.
“We live with friends for the time being, moving from house to house, without our own home. But we won’t be broken. Hashem gave us this Land. The Torah is our deed. Our forefathers sacrificed everything to dwell here, and when the pioneers returned 100 years ago, they suffered hardship after hardship in rebuilding the land. The authorities can destroy our home a dozen times and we will come back and rebuild it each time.”