Yitzhar, Occupied West Bank — In two weeks, the residents of this settlement, known as one of the West Bank’s most ideological and uncompromising, will vote on whether it’s acceptable to fight the army that is assigned to protect them.
Yitzhar is a small town of about 1,100 people perched on a hill outside of the Palestinian city of Nablus, but it has developed an oversized reputation. In 2011, it earned the distinction of carrying out more attacks on Palestinians than any other settlement in the occupied West Bank: One out of every six incidents documented by the United Nations that year involved a resident of Yitzhar.
Earlier this month, though, residents went after a less common target. Six officers from the Israeli border police were injured by stone-throwing settlers on April 8 when they demolished a house that was built without the proper permits. Settlers also trashed an army post and slashed the tires of a colonel’s jeep.
The army responded by closing a notorious Yitzhar yeshiva, or Jewish seminary, called Od Yosef Chai ("Joseph Still Lives"). Border police took control of the site on April 11 after the local army commander declared it a military zone. His order forbids anyone from entering for two months, and today the site is barricaded and guarded by armed officers.
The attack, while hardly unprecedented, has touched off a controversy within Israel about how the state should deal with growing settler violence. Some politicians have labeled the residents of Yitzhar "terrorists", a term almost exclusively applied to Palestinians, and called on the army to set up checkpoints, or even evacuate the settlement.
Within Yitzhar, the attack has also been debated. The vote later this month will decide whether stone-throwing and other acts are a valid response to future demolitions: Municipal officials have said they will resign if the town votes yes.
"The army can come and do things that upset us, but there have to be limits," said Ezri Tubi, a Yitzhar resident. "This vote is an inner vote, to decide if there are borders and ways to act in harsh situations like this… this will have to be settled."