Less than a month before the Knesset elections, a decision to evacuate the illegal Oz Zion outpost near Beit El on the eve of Shabbat has sparked a political storm.
Some 250 settlers arrived at the site on Friday for a scheduled event to be held on Shabbat. Border Police and the Israel Defense Forces surrounded the site. Army Radio reported that in ensuing clashes five Border Police officers were injured by rocks that had been hurled at them. But Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed ,who was at the outpost, said, "I was here during the clash. No one was hurt."
Hatnuah Chairwoman Tzipi Livni harshly criticized Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett on Saturday, alleging that "the extreme Right" had taken over his party.
"The clashes between soldiers and extreme rightists, who are backed by political rabbis, and the fact that Israel Defense Forces troops and police officers had to restrain this trouble-making on Saturday, should serve as a wake-up call to every mother and father in Israel and remind them what these elections are all about," Livni said.
"The extreme Right has taken hold over Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, and they are fighting against soldiers, doing whatever they please in the territories, and forcing the military and the police to deal with them rather than dealing with actual security. These are Bennett's rabbis, this is [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's capitulation, and it is all of us who are paying the price of this political foot-dragging and bullying. Bennett and the extremist rabbis intentionally led people to that particular spot in order to spark friction and create a situation where soldiers would be forced to refuse orders."
Habayit Hayehudi responded to Livni's accusations, issuing a statement saying, "We wonder whether now, every Saturday, words will be put into Bennett's mouth, or if actions that have nothing to do with him will be attributed to him, leaving him to prove otherwise after Shabbat. We learned of the Oz Zion evacuation on Saturday night, the same time we learned of Tzipi Livni's wretched efforts to gather two more votes for her party."
Bennett also responded to the remarks on his Facebook page, "congratulating" Livni for having joined the attacks against him. "Now you too, Tzipi Livni?" he wrote. "This has become a new routine for [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, and now Livni has jumped on board ... If there is an illegal outpost that needs to be evacuated, you can do it on a weekday, not on Shabbat. A little common sense wouldn't hurt. And never, under any circumstances, should anyone hurt an IDF soldier. Period."
Yair Shamir, No. 4 on the Yisrael Beytenu Knesset list, also commented: "I am not saying that an outpost cannot be evacuated before Shabbat, but on the eve of an election, it is wrong to do so."
Livni was not the only one to attack the Right over the issue. Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich said Saturday, "The evacuation of settlers was necessary, but it does not erase the shame of attacks on Border Police fighters. The violators of the law must be punished. This is a grave disregard for the rule of law, and it comes at the height of calls against the state, its laws and its army, whose strength is a necessity for our continued existence here. What we have here is a clear and dangerous legitimization of insubordination and selective obedience to the rule of law."
Before the evacuation, Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said, "It has been proved once again that the fierce competition within the extreme Right, which has caused injury to security forces, is not only affecting peace and security but also democracy and the rule of law in Israel."
The clashes at Oz Zion began on Friday when security forces surrounded the outpost in efforts to evacuate the dozens of settler youth who had arrived at the site. The settlers were there to participate in a scheduled event on Shabbat, led by Rabbi Dov Lior, one of the most influential rabbis among right-wing activists, and one of the spiritual leaders of the Tkuma movement, which is currently running for the Knesset on a joint list with Habayit Hayehudi.
When the security forces arrived at the site, about an hour before Shabbat began, the settlers clashed with the soldiers and police officers, slashed police car tires and threw rocks. One activist was arrested.
Because of the friction, the IDF decided to leave the site rather than continue evacuating it on Shabbat. On Saturday evening, the youths left the site voluntarily.