Idf dismantles tapuah west sunagogue
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Jan. 20, 2004
IDF dismantles Tapuah West synagogue
By MATTHEW GUTMAN
In what settlers and soldiers called a "pilot" of future outpost evacuations, the IDF caught the settlers of West Tapuah off guard Tuesday, quickly dismantling an illegal synagogue dedicated to the banned radical rightist group, Kahane Chai.
It was the first evacuation of an illegal outpost since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke of unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip a month ago.
Tapuah West was the first on the Defense Ministry's list of 28 outposts that are slated for removal.
Six settlers, three soldiers, and a police officer were lightly injured in scuffles that erupted soon after the IDF reached the synagogue which borders Tapuah West.
Some 300 soldiers and 100 policemen faced off against about 100 pro-settlement activists – some of whom traveled from as far as Tel Aviv to protest the dismantling – in what had the potential for being a bloody afternoon, said a senior security source at the scene, but ended without major incident.
Judea and Samaria Police arrested 25 pro-settlement activists, and charged them with entering a closed military zone, disrupting the work of soldiers and police, and, in two cases, assault. All but two were immediately released.
The High Court of Justice paved the way for the building's removal Tuesday morning by rejecting a petition submitted by the Kfar Tapuah Council to stop the destruction of the synagogue.
Eyewitnesses claimed that gunshots were fired at the onset of several fistfights. Residents said they filmed the gunshots and claimed that the soldiers fired the rounds.
A senior security source at the scene confirmed that shots – which he described as "a single burst of gunfire"– were fired, but added that no soldiers fired their weapons during the operation.
The IDF made short work of the synagogue – a rectangular shed-like structure about 15 meters long and some five meters wide. Tapuah West settlers had hoped that the structure would become a seminary for teaching the ideology of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the assassinated leader of the far-right Kahane Chai movement.
With little time to prepare, the settlers set up flimsy roadblocks of burning tires and piles of stones on the narrow asphalt strip that leads from Tapuah to the outpost. Once the evacuation and dismantlement began, they flung themselves, often halfheartedly, at the soldiers working near the synagogue to prevent its removal.
At one point, Paratroops Brigade commander Col. Harel Knafo brokered a deal with Rabbi Shmuel Cohen, head of the seminary, whereby Cohen would work to remove all the protesters from the area, and the structure would be dismantled piece by piece.
Soldiers began carefully removing the synagogue's walls, unhinging plywood panels nail by nail, almost daintily removing the site's wiring and lights, then placing them in neat piles by the side of the structure.
Armed with electric screwdrivers, IDF engineers then clambered onto the synagogue's roof and began taking apart the tin roof screw by screw, nut by nut.
Knafo began telling The Jerusalem Post that his troops "are treating this place with so much respect because it is a synagogue." He had barely finished uttering the word "synagogue," when a protester yanked a ladder from under one of the soldiers removing the structure's electrical wires.
An incensed Knafo then sprinted over to the synagogue, yelling: "Deal's over. That's it, everybody out, we're bulldozing it."
Minutes later, all that remained was a muddy heap of planks, tin roofing, and concrete.
"They are taking our roots from us, our legacy, and our land," Cohen, head of the seminary said, pointing to its remains. "The foundation of the land is sacred and unfortunately, in the government's view, the rule of law in this country ranks above the rule of the Torah."
By nightfall, volunteers had flocked to the site and began erecting a new structure.
Kfar Tapuah, located a kilometer and a half away from the outpost, is known to be one of the most extreme-right settlements in the West Bank.
Just outside the settlement, at what is known as Tapuah Junction – one of the West Bank's busiest checkpoints – the evacuation caused gridlock.
Palestinians staring at the black smoke hovering over Tapuah were unimpressed by the commotion.
"Sharon is all talk, no action. It's all for the TV," said Sami, 30, who was waiting to cross the checkpoint. Asked if he felt that the evacuation of the outpost was a boon to the Palestinian cause, Sami said, "Not really. All this is doing is creating gridlock, and now no one can pass. All I want is for them [the IDF] to get this thing over with so we can go home."
Back at the outpost, some of the protesters continued to taunt the soldiers, even after the structure was leveled and its foundations ripped up.
"These are evil times," said one protester who belongs to the radical Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva, "when the State of Israel demolishes a synagogue... If he keeps this up he'll be smelling flowers from the roots up."
When protesters began calling the soldiers members of the "Yishmael Defense Forces," some soldiers laughed, others did not find it so funny.
After the initial round of fighting, the settlers largely demonstrated peacefully, some prostrating themselves beside the fallen structure and moaning, "God have mercy on Israel."
Earlier in January, Channel 2 television reported that the government funded the paving of a NIS 1 million access road leading from Kfar Tapuah to the outpost.
The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip claimed that the TV news report was based on false information. Adi Mintz, until last week the director of the council, said the outpost is legal and was approved in 1998 by the government of former prime minister Ehud Barak.
However, the legality of the outpost remains in question. The senior officer at the site said that three of the outpost's 10 caravans were placed illegally on the land.
Daniel Shukri, one of the initiators of the Tapuah West synagogue and former secretary of Kfar Tapuah, expressed surprise at the demolition. "Generally you begin to build and then the government issues permission."
On Monday, Amana, the settlement arm of Gush Emunim, and the settlers' council appealed to the High Court of Justice against the government directives for the evacuation of outposts.
In the past weeks, Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz signed special directives for the evacuation of 11 outposts in the West Bank.