MK Nissim Ze'ev, founder of the haredi Shas party who was recently ousted by chairman Aryeh Deri from the party's list, visited the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in Samaria's Yitzhar this week in a show of support for the Torah institution that has been occupied by the IDF for nearly a year.
Od Yosef Chai was seized and turned into a base by the IDF's Border Patrol last April in what staff call an unprecedented move in Israeli history.
While MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) tried to visit the yeshiva last month and was denied entrance by the IDF, Ze'ev managed to obtain special permission to enter the yeshiva with representatives of the institution, after first speaking with students at the temporary building where they are continuing their Torah studies.
During a tour of the facility, Ze'ev was shown how the classrooms were turned into barracks for the Border Patrol officers to sleep in, as well as the damage the officers caused to the study hall's doors.
On one of the doors which the officers broke they stood the tables of the study hall, and in the hall itself has been placed a ping pong table that was in the yeshiva courtyard for students.
The placement of the ping pong table in the place of religious study comes after the exercise equipment and treadmills the officers had put in the yeshiva were removed, following the demands of Attorney Adi Keidar of the Honenu legal aid organization who is representing the yeshiva.
"With G-d's help Yosef lives (a play of the yeshiva's Biblical-reference name in Hebrew 'Yosef still lives' – ed.), and as long as he lives we will return G-d willing to this place to open it," said Ze'ev.
The MK stressed "even if I won't be in the Knesset, we'll do everything to return the lost property to its owners, we'll return the stolen property that was stolen, and the exploited property that was exploited."
He added that the yeshiva should be compensated for the remarkably long period of time during which students and staff have been prevented from using the building.
Ze'ev's visit can be viewed in the Hebrew-language video below.
Rabbi Yosef Plai, a department head in the yeshiva, told Arutz Sheva this week that members of the yeshiva are urging the soldiers to refuse orders, saying "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."
The yeshiva was seized 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.
When the site was occupied by the IDF last April, 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, he added.