The IDF Border Patrol has occupied the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in Samaria's Yitzhar for almost a year, seizing the site last April and extending its hold since – exasperated students and staff at the Torah academy are tired of the situation and stepping up their efforts to return.
Rabbi Yosef Plai, a department head in the yeshiva, told Arutz Sheva that the military actions constitute theft and desecration of holiness, explaining why students and staff in recent days have started to protest firmly, calling on the soldiers to refuse orders and leave the institution.
"This is an act whose like has never been done in the state of Israel since its founding, in which security forces confiscate a yeshiva and beit midrash (study hall – ed.) and turn it into a military camp," said the rabbi. "Almost a year has gone by since it happened last Pesach (Passover)."
That seizure was conducted after cyclical clashes occurred between security forces and an extremist element in the town, which began when a house was destroyed by the IDF, sparking tire-slashings of two IDF cars. In response, four local homes were demolished, triggering a clash with local youths and the destruction of an IDF outpost.
During the occupation of the yeshiva, studies have been relocated to another temporary complex, and students may only enter the original building at certain times and for very short periods. In fact MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) tried to visit the yeshiva last month and was denied entrance by the IDF, despite being a member of Knesset.
"We're trying to continue the routine of study as much as possible," Rabbi Plai said. "It's clear to us what…(Defense Minister Moshe) Ya'alon tried to achieve, after all the yeshiva continues to function but in other buildings – maybe he has something against the structure."
He added "there are those who joke around and say maybe they're searching for tunnels," in a play on the Hamas terror tunnels from Gaza highlighting the unusually harsh crackdown on the yeshiva.
Now the yeshiva is trying to reignite public pressure on the IDF to change the discriminatory state of affairs, with the rabbi reasoning "maybe that's what will help, we tried to bring Knesset members but in the meantime that isn't enough."
"We are certainly saying thanks to those who help us, but Boogie (Moshe) Ya'alon did an inexcusable act and it is not fitting to elect a person like that. He is the one standing at the head of the system, but of course we turn criticism on every one in the military and legal system," said Rabbi Plai.
Outlining some of the recent tactics the desperate yeshiva has been taking to return to its occupied facility, he added "we're also turning to soldiers on the ground and telling them that what they're doing is forbidden according to the Torah. I certainly tell them they need to refuse orders, because they are holding a site that was illegally expropriated, and this is theft and desecration of holiness."
Last April when the IDF seized the site, Yitzhar spokesman Ezri Tovi noted on the irony of the situation, saying "would a mosque that calls day and night to destroy the state of Israel merit similar treatment? To remind everyone, the yeshiva building looks out on a mosque which has had a destruction order from the Supreme Court on it for many years. For some reason the rule of law shows great patience" towards the illegal mosque.