IDF officials have allowed settlers to renovate buildings on an abandoned West Bank army base in Gush Etzion, on land coveted by both settlers and Palestinians. The land, on a hilltop about half a kilometer from the Palestinian village of Beit Sahur in the Bethlehem district, housed an army base during the British Mandate period. The base was transferred to Jordanian control and later to the IDF. During the second intifada, the IDF used it as a lookout point. When army officials decided in 2006 that it was no longer needed, the buildings were vacated and the site abandoned.

All but four of the remaining buildings were demolished from inside, the doors removed and the window frames smashed. After the IDF abandoned the site, officials of Beit Sahur planned to build a hospital and an amusement park there. Upon hearing of these plans, members of the right-wing settlement movement Women in Green began visiting the location and demanded that the deserted base be turned into a Jewish community. In 2010, the IDF agreed to re-establish the base. A pillbox was stationed there, staffed with soldiers to keep both sides from taking over the land.

Nevertheless, Col. Yaniv Alaluf, the commander of the Etzion Brigade, recently granted the settlers’ request to renovate the buildings on the abandoned base, which the settlers call Shdema and the Palestinians call Ush al-Ghrab. The main building on the site has been painted. Chairs have been placed inside, the window frames restored and an exhibit mounted that describes the history of the place. Alaluf also allowed the settlers to hold events there, including one held last Independence Day. However, passersby who come to the hill, including Palestinians, are turned away with the claim that it is a closed military zone.

Dror Etkes, a researcher of the settlements who worked for the non-profit organization Yesh Din in the past, said, “The army base was vacated years ago when the army found there was no longer a need to maintain it for security reasons. But in this affair, the army is showing itself once more as the willing indentured servant of the settlers by allowing them to take over the place gradually on various ludicrous pretexts.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Office commented, “The IDF is allowing the use of the buildings temporarily for study meetings and classes. Any request to use the land is thoroughly examined.”IDF allows settlers to renovate abandoned base in Gush Etzion