Tensions between the Israeli army and Jewish settlers were high in December. But, as the state shies away from demolishing an illegal outpost and soldiers and settlers celebrate Hanukah together, it looks like the army and settlers are rekindling their flame.
Settlement leadership in northern West Bank lit Hanukah candles together with the Israeli army’s Ephraim Brigade commander on Joshua’s Tomb, on Sunday, December 25. In light of Jewish settlers recent attack on the Ephraim Regional Brigade and the public debate inside Israel, this year’s settler-army joint candle lighting represents an attempt to overcome tensions. The settlements were represented by the head of the Samaria Regional Council, Gershon Mesika, and his deputies, the chairman of the Benjamin Council, Avi Roeh, as well as the head of Emmanuel council, Ezra Gershy. The army was represented by Colonel Kahane, the commander of the brigade, and its officers.
Mesika, who lit the menorah, said that “Hanukah is the holiday of unity, army and settlements are one and inseparable. [The army] is the flesh of our flesh; he who tries to slander and to separate the military from the settlers, affects the army and the settlers.” Mesika, also spoke about the meaning of the candle lighting on the tomb of Yehosua Bin Nun, he said “we pray for the unity of the people of Israel and the building of the Land of Israel.”
Colonel Kahane, the Ephraim brigade’s commander, remarked, “We say to the soldiers and female soldiers that we are part of a chain of generations, there is no place more appropriate than here, the tomb of Joshua, to mark the holiday of Hanukah and the heroism of the Maccabees.”
Earlier in the day, youth from the Itamar settlement held a torchlight march along the army’s “Samaria Brigade.” The march ended in a joint candle-lighting ceremony in the brigade’s compound. Itamar’s youth coordinator, Pinchas Michaeli, stressed that it was another event in a chain that links youth and community with the soldiers serving in the area.
The army and settlers’ joint festivities come after a month of tensions, during which some 50 settlers and right-wing activists entered Ephraim Regional Brigade’s base near the West Bank city of Qalqilya. The settlers threw rocks, burned tires, and vandalized military vehicles. During the attack, a brigade commander was lightly wounded after a stone hit his head. Right-wing activists also blocked a main road in the region and threw stones at passing Palestinian vehicles and Israeli soldiers.
The army said that settlers were “crossing a red line” and some members of parliament called to declare “Hilltop Youth” paramilitary organizations as terrorists. However, in the aftermath of those events, Netanyahu’s government took steps to lower tensions and agreed not to demolish an unregulated outpost.