Israeli security forces early on Tuesday morning destroyed six Jewish homes in the eastern Gush Etzion region of Judea, in defiance of instructions by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
At least one of the destroyed houses belonged to an Israel Defense Forces reservist, according to local media reports. Police reportedly removed the reservist as he attempted to salvage personal belongings.
During the demolitions, a large area near the community of Pnei Kedem was declared a closed military zone, with local commuters allegedly being questioned by police for lengthy periods.
After approximately two hours, Religious Zionism Party lawmaker Simcha Rothman, a resident of Pnei Kedem, passed through the area and convinced officers to open the roads to traffic, according to the reports.
Smotrich, who also serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry and has authority over civilian issues in Judea and Samaria, said he was bypassed by IDF Central Command head Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, who took the issue directly to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as an “immediate” security matter.
Smotrich’s office noted that Fox “does not see it as urgent to demolish illegal Bedouin houses in the same area, nor to prevent Arab construction in eastern Gush Etzion, or indeed anywhere in Judea and Samaria.”
The Regavim Movement, a think tank and lobbying group dedicated to preserving Israel’s resources and sovereignty, on Tuesday shared a video of illegal Palestinian construction outside the Gush Etzion city of Efrat.
“The work to establish a Palestinian state continues vigorously,” tweeted Regavim, charging that Fox has “turned a blind eye to the real danger” of Arab structures being built next to the security fence near Efrat.
“While the Palestinian Authority Arabs are running wild, taking over and occupying state lands, the enforcement officials choose to direct their tools of destruction specifically against the Jews,” said Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman.
“The harsh images of Israeli soldiers engaged in destruction indicate that those responsible have lost their way,” added Ne’eman, who also serves as the head of the Yesha Council, the umbrella group of municipal assemblies in Judea and Samaria.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gallant defended the demolitions in Judea, noting that Fox is responsible for killing “hundreds of terrorists who were on their way to attack citizens of Israel in Judea and Samaria this year.”
“A significant portion of those attacking Maj. Gen. Fox live in the areas that he fights to defend. I appeal to public figures: If you are holding a political campaign and need to criticize someone—attack me instead of IDF officers,” added Gallant in a post on X.
Following the uproar, the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem announced on Tuesday night that the government would temporarily halt the demolition of soldiers’ homes in Judea and Samaria.
“To prevent a recurrence of events like what happened today in Gush Etzion, Prime Minister Netanyahu has instructed that, as long as the war continues, the evacuation and demolition of the homes of soldiers and reservists in Judea and Samaria must be stopped,” read the statement.
In July, Israel Hayom claimed that Fox had been unilaterally undercutting government policy by cutting down the number of forces allocated to the enforcement of Palestinian construction violations in Judea and Samaria.
In the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, residents of Judea and Samaria formed a protest group in response to Fox’s decision to green-light Palestinian olive harvesting close to Israeli communities in the area, even after several Palestinians were reportedly caught observing the communities’ security measures.
In addition, Fox has repeatedly refused government and public appeals to restore checkpoints and roadblocks near Palestinian terror hotspots in the Jordan Valley and northern Samaria, critics have charged.