The IDF demolished a number of illegal buildings on the hilltop “Shevach haAretz,” which belongs to the settlement Yitzhar, close to Nablus. The hilltop was declared a closed military zone. This was done as a direct result of confrontations between settlers from Yitzhar and IDF soldiers. Yitzhar has nine other outposts that are considered illegal under Israeli law, each outpost containing a handful of inhabitants.
Yitzhar was established in the 1980’s and has from start become a focal point for some of the most extremist settlers. The yeshiva within its municipal boundaries is often considered the center of the “hilltop youth” movement, a term used to refer to nationalist youth who establish outposts without permits in the West Bank. The yeshiva used to be at the site of Joseph’s grave, and was the only Jewish settlement inside of Nablus, but it was moved to Yitzhar in 2000 as a result of the second intifada.
During the past month, there have been increased confrontations between the settlers and the soldiers serving in the area. It started with hilltop youth attacking Israeli left-wing activists who volunteered to help Palestinians with their olive harvest, but who according to them, went provokingly close to Yitzhar. During the incident a field was put on fire, and one young settler was arrested under suspicion of being involved. He claimed that the officer who arrested him used unnecessary force.
The young settler was released a few days later, but when he spotted the same officer a few hours later he started to confront him. He was eventually arrested again. A few days after that a military car was stopped by a few settlers who blocked the road and then opened the door and threatened the soldiers. The officer went out to the settlers who then left.
On Sunday, October 20 at 3 AM, the situation started to spiral out of control when about 30 settlers gathered and threw stones at soldiers and punctured their car tires. One soldier was slightly injured. As a result, the head of the regional council of Samaria’s settlements met with the soldiers and stated that they would do everything they could to arrest the few extremists who did this, and that most of them arrived from outside of Yitzhar.
The day after, a demonstration in support of the IDF was organized in Yitzhar, in order to confirm that the settlers who did this are a minority. Many of the demonstrators said that they were frustrated with the situation and could understand the hilltop youth, but that hurting their own soldiers who are there to protect them was crossing a red line. Others even came to the demonstration with opposite signs, supporting the hilltop youth. They said that they shouldn’t turn their back to the young people, even if they did “a few stupid things.” Other signs called for the “overly violent officer” to be dismissed.
The support demonstration didn’t help, and on October 24 the outpost Shevach haAretz was demolished. The leaders in Yitzhar stated that “Yitzhar has confirmed that we stand behind the army and condemn the acts of violence against soldiers. This act of punishment will only increase the frustration, and will not lead to more calm.” The IDF responded that “those messages are what will increase violence. We ask that the leaders in Yitzhar focus on restoring calm, and let us do our job of implementing the law when it comes to illegal structures.”
One day later, a tent used by the military on a different outpost was put on fire and cars and buildings in a close Palestinian village were vandalized with Hebrew graffiti saying “closed military area” and “greetings from the hilltop in Yitzhar.”
All of these events are occurring in the areas of the Palestinian city Nablus, which is an Arabization of the Roman name Neapolis. The original name of the city is Shechem, and it is mentioned as early as in Genesis 34. It is situated between mount Ebal and mount Gerizim on which the curses and blessings were said in Joshua 8:30-35 according to the instructions in Deuteronomy 11:29. Shechem was also the city in which Gideon’s son Abimelek ruled “with wickedness” according to Judges 9.