Israel police complete eviction of West Bank settlers as demolition looms
Menahem KAHANA (AFP)
Some 2,300 Israeli Border Police officers evacuated settlers from 15 illegally built homes in the West Bank settlement outpost Netiv Ha’avot on Tuesday, ahead of a court deadline to demolish the structures partially built on Palestinian land.
Israel's Supreme Court in February gave the residents until June 15 to vacate 15 settler homes found to have been built partly on private Palestinian land. The homes set for demolition were plastered with posters decrying the “absurdity” of the ruling by the “leftist” High Court.
"Police worked carefully throughout the day to evacuate the houses one by one and prevent any major incident from taking place," said a police statement issued after the evacuation concluded on Tuesday evening.
Fears of violence that have marred previous evictions in the West Bank were largely unfulfilled, although police said three suspects were nabbed for throwing stones and bottles at police.
"Over 500 people mostly youths were removed from the houses and taken to buses that waited to escort them out of the area," the statement said.
During the eviction young boys in tears were followed by a young woman holding a baby, as they were escorted out of their home in the settlement, a neighborhood of the Elazar settlement located in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem.
The first two homes were evacuated peacefully but three teens were detained by the police after brawling with officers.
Earlier, hundreds of youths had barricaded themselves inside a number of buildings as an estimated 2,000 people, most of them young activists, traveled to the outpost to support the settlers and protest their eviction.
Residents of the outpost had urged Israelis to join them in protesting the demolition, but urged no violence against police after committing to the IDF’s Central Command last week that demonstrators would only “passively resist” eviction.
Large Israeli flags were flying on some of the rooftops, as well as signs pledging to return to the site.
After morning prayers, men sang and danced in a show of faith outside the homes to be razed.
Resident Aviad Amitai said that Tuesday marked the start of a three-day process, with police clearing people from the houses subject to the court order before demolishing them.
"We have a peaceful protest, we are law-abiding people, we are not going to show any violence here," Amitai told AFP.
Police had tried to prevent supporters from going inside but videos published on social media showed activists joining residents in several of the homes.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that while residents did not want the event to be violent, "we've seen in previous evacuations police officers being injured as a result of stones or violent incidents."
Clashes between security forces and settlers have erupted during previous settlement evictions. In late January, a lengthy saga over the fate of the wildcat Amona outpost came to a head when hundreds of residents and thousands of their supporters were dramatically dragged out of the outpost which was later demolished.
The right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which draws support from the settlement movement and has settlers in cabinet posts, approved a plan to build 350 homes at new plots in Netiv Haavot not subject to the Supreme Court as compensation for the demolitions.
The plan also reportedly includes some 60 million shekels ($17 million, 14 million euros) in compensation for the settlers leaving the homes to be demolished and provision for temporary housing for them until construction is complete.
Hananel Dorni, chairman of settler group the Yesha council, said the court's decision to demolish the homes was "unwarranted".
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, himself a settler, said the discussions leading up to the court's decision were like those in Sodom and Gomorrah, ancient cities that according to the Bible were demolished by God for their sinfulness.
Ariel tweeted from Netiv Haavot that he would "not relent" before settling "all of the land of Israel."
All Israeli settlements are viewed as illegal under international law, but Israel differentiates between those it has approved and those it has not.
Peace Now said the Palestinian owners of the land to be vacated have been seeking to have their property restored since the settlers arrived there in 2001.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are seen as major stumbling blocks to a peace deal since they are built on land the Palestinian wants for their future state.
Some 600,000 Israeli settlers live among nearly three million Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
(Staff with AFP)
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