Israeli police drag settlers, cursing and praying, out of West Bank homes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 2:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 8:55pm

Thousands of police surrounded a Jewish settlement in the West Bank deemed illegal by the Israeli high court and began dragging angry residents, sputtering curses and prayers, out of their mobile homes.

After years of delay, the evacuation of the hard-line Amona settlers commenced on Wednesday, as longhair youths in skull caps burned tires, hurled rocks, and pushed and shoved authorities, alternately taunting police or pleading with them to disobey their orders to empty the community.

The day’s bitter clashes transfixed the nation, as Jews evicted Jews, with the democratic state fighting to uphold the rule of law as religious, messanic settlers claimed the rule of God. The scenes played out live on television and the Internet, as Israeli politicians promised this would not happen again.

Even the settlers seemed to know that this may be a last eviction. They were zealous in their resistance, but there was more the feeling they had lost a battle - even a skirmish - and not a war.

Israeli society and its leaders have struggled since the 1970s with the growth of settlements in the occupied territories. The state always protects, often abets but sometimes thwarts the pioneers. Many Israelis withhold full-throated support, in part out of fear of angering the Americans, and the rest of the world, which condemns the building as illegal or worse. There is the sense that big changes are coming.

The Israeli supreme court ordered the demolition of the village of 40 families in 2014 because it was built on land privately owned by Palestinians from the neighbouring villages.

We feel good vibrations from Trump. This is the end of this terrible time
Israeli settler Eli Greenberg

Many settlers and their supporters who climbed the rocky hill to defend Amona blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the community’s imminent destruction.

As the police carried red-faced settlers and demonstrators from the homes, bulldozers idled down the hill, ready to knock down the cheap metal caravans, as well as playgrounds, vineyards, olive groves and a synagogue.

The settlers said the government should have defied the court order or found a solution that would allow Jews to remain on biblical land they believe was promised to them by God.

Settlers also said they hoped Amona would be the last of hundreds of settlements and outposts built in part on private Palestinian land to be evacuated, because President Trump would support them.

“We will be the last to be dragged from our homes,” said Eli Greenberg, 43, a father of eight who was barricaded inside his family’s trailer on the bitterly cold mountaintop.

“Why give this land to the Palestinians, who preach nothing but hate and violence, and want to destroy Israel?” he asked, speaking by cellphone as police surrounded his home. “We feel good vibrations from Trump. This is the end of this terrible time.”

The razing of Amona and the eviction of its families has been more than a decade in the making. The long timeline underscored the political challenges for Israeli leaders, who count on the support of 600,000 settlers now living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but have feared U.S. condemnation under both Republican and Democratic leadership.

By the early evening, Israeli security forces had removed 20 families from their homes and arrested a handful of activists who had turned out to support the residents.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 15 police officers had been lightly injured in scuffles with settlers and their supporters.

In an attempt to calm the settlers’ fury, Israeli leaders promised that the dismantling of Amona would bring renewed building in the West Bank.

Last week, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that 2,500 new homes would be built in the West Bank. On Tuesday, in anticipation of the Amona clashes, they promised 3,000 more.

An announcement of 5,500 new homes would have brought swift, harsh condemnation from the Obama administration, which for eight years branded such building “illegitimate” and “an obstacle to peace” between Jews and Arabs.

The Trump administration has so far remained silent.

“This is a very difficult day,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, of the ultranationalist Jewish Home party, said in an interview with Israeli news site Walla. “We have tried and tried to prevent this from happening, but now we are watching 40 families being evicted from their homes.”

“But we need to remember that this terrible day will eventually bring about new building in the West Bank,” she said.

Inside Amona, young Jewish men and women hunkered down in abandoned houses, barbed wire strung up around doors and windows. They climbed on top of the caravans, waving Israeli flags, and protesters screamed at the police, “Shame on you, this is the land of Israel” and “Jews should not evict Jews.”

In the neighbouring Palestinian village of Silwad, the Arabs clapped and shook hands.

“It feels great to see settlers being taken off my land and their caravans removed. The court has done a good thing, although it has taken a long time,” said Ibrahim Yakoob, 56, a Palestinian farmer who is part owner of the land.

“The question now is whether I will be allowed to return to my land and farm it again,” he said. “I don’t think so. The ultimate suffering as a farmer is to see your land but not be able to use it.”