Otzma Yehudit MKs at scene of the demolition
Otzma Yehudit MKs at scene of the demolitionצילום: דוברות

The Israeli Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria uprooted a Jewish-owned orchard and olive grove in Samaria Wednesday morning, defying the instructions of Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionist Party).

Dozens of yeshiva and seminary students gathered at the olive grove and fruit orchard, owned by Hen Ben-Eliyahu and located in the Shilo Valley in the Binyamin district of Samaria, in an attempt to prevent the demolition.

Roughly 40 protesters have been detained by police thus far, the Honenu organization reported.

“It is unbelievable that a fully right-wing government would do this,” the Ben-Eliyahu family said Wednesday. “Twenty years-worth of work was undone in one moment, and there is no one to halt this injustice. We call on all government ministers to stop this and to come here.”

The uprooting was carried out despite orders from Smotrich, who also serves as Finance Minister, to the Civil Administration to freeze the demolition.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud) countermanded Smotrich’s orders, instructing the Civil Administration to move forward with the demolition.

The Civil Administration has accused the Ben-Eliyhau family of seizing farm land in the Shilo Valley without authorization, citing court rulings ordering the family to uproot its orchard.

Gallant, who was himself has been accused of seizing hundreds of square meters of public land to expand his estate in Moshav Amikam, previously countermanded orders by Smotrich last month to halt the demolition of the new Ohr HaHaim outpost near Migdalim in Samaria.

The razing of the outpost heightened tensions between Smotrich and Gallant within the Netanyahu government, and led to a boycott of the government by Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party.

The two ministers have reportedly clashed over plans to transfer authority over the Civil Administration from Gallant to Smotrich, as per the government’s coalition agreements.

During Wednesday morning’s demolition, Smotrich fired off a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warning him that further delays in implementing the transfer of the Civil Administration could threaten the future of the government.

“About a month ago, as Minister in the Defense Ministry appointed to oversee the Civil Administration and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, I instructed that the order against Hen Ben-Eliyahu be nullified immediately.”

“But much to my surprise, the Defense Minister brazenly violated the coalition agreement and overruled my decision.”

“Minister Gallant has decided to continue the left-wing policies of former minister Benny Gantz and to destroy orchards, even though the claims against this orchard were proven in court hearings to be false.”

Smotrich went on to demand that authority over the Civil Administration be transferred to his office “today.”