Evacuation of Amona, once site of settlers’ bloody stand, stirs fears of violent repeat
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Evacuation of Amona, once site of settlers’ bloody stand, stirs fears of violent repeat

Security forces prepare for confrontation in razing of contentious outpost, but some hold out hope the order will be carried out peacefully

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The 2006 clashes in Amona (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)
The 2006 clashes in Amona (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

On February 1, 2006, after a protracted legal battle, some 10,000 Israeli police officers, border guards and soldiers arrived at the illegal Amona outpost in the central West Bank to demolish nine of the settlement’s buildings, in accordance with a court order.

What ensued was a violent mess.

In the security forces’ clashes with the approximately 4,000 people protesting the demolition, over 220 people were injured, according to government figures. Approximately 140 of them were civilians, including two Knesset members. The dozens of others were security personnel, including one member of the Border Police who suffered a serious head injury and had to be taken by helicopter to a Jerusalem hospital.

In a joint statement, the army and police described “numerous acts of extreme violence,” while Effi Eitam, one of the injured MKs, labeled the demolition a “pogrom.”

Police clashing with settlers and protesters at the Amona outpost in 2006. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir, Flash90)
Police clashing with settlers and protesters at the Amona outpost in 2006. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

In the end, the nine buildings were demolished, but the incident left a deep mark on the Israeli consciousness and convinced members of the settler community that “the threat of violence works,” a news editor for the nationalist Israel National News outlet told the International Crisis Group organization.

Yet some six and a half years later, in September 2012, when the 50 families living in the Migron outpost also faced a Supreme Court-issued demolition order — following years of legal proceedings — violence was largely avoided.

Settler youth atop a trailer home in the settlement of Migron on Sunday. (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)
Settler youth atop a trailer home in the settlement of Migron. (Oren Nahshon/Flash90)

The residents of Migron were promised land a short distance away from the original, illegal settlement, and though some young residents of the outpost and their supporters were physically hauled out by police officers, the evacuation largely “concluded with dialogue and responsibility rather than with violence,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it at the time.

By December 25, the entire Amona outpost is slated for evacuation, in accordance with a High Court ruling that found the settlement had been built on private Palestinian land.

Though some lawmakers say they’re still working toward a plan to save the settlement, most have resigned themselves to the fact that Amona will come down. The approximately 40 families living there in caravans — essentially immobile trailers — will be forced to leave and resettle elsewhere.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/POOL)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/POOL)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has proposed a compromise somewhat similar to Migron’s, wherein the residents of Amona would temporarily move into three plots of land nearby that administered by Israel’s Custodian for Absentees’ Property. They would live there while their new homes are completed in another settlement in the northern West Bank.

Residents of Amona, however, dismissed the offer. “We’re not objects that you can throw from place to place every few months. We won’t willingly abandon our homes for another place only to be thrown out again from the same place after eight months of uncertainty,” they told Israel Radio on Tuesday.

Some 120 rabbis, who identify with the national religious camp, also released a letter Monday calling for “all who are able” to come to Amona and “vigorously protest the destruction of the settlement, with passive resistance and without violence.”

So which of these scenarios will play out in Amona 2016 — the violent riots of the Amona 2006 demolitions, or the comparatively peaceful evacuation of Migron in 2012?

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

‘Violence and hostility’

The Israel Defense Forces, which is ultimately tasked with the evacuation (though the Border Police will likely do the heavy lifting), would not comment on its expectations for the evacuation as the issue has been deemed too “political.”

The Shin Bet security service, which reviewed the possibility of violence for the High Court of Justice, will also not reveal its findings to the public.

However, though the Shin Bet’s full report is classified, the High Court of Justice included a paraphrase of it in its decision on the evacuation, which indicated that some level of violence is expected.

‘[The evacuation] will lead to some acts of violence and hostility by radical elements’

Specifically, the court noted, there is reason to suspect that the evacuation will result in “price tag” attacks against Palestinians by Jewish extremists — so named as the acts of vandalism, violence and terrorism are meant to represent the “cost” of actions taken against settlement activities — as well as potential retaliations by Palestinians to the “price tag” attacks.

“[The evacuation] will lead to some acts of violence and hostility by radical elements, either against security forces or against the Palestinian population, acts that are liable to lead to responses by violent elements in the Palestinian population,” the court wrote in its opinion, citing the Shin Bet evaluation.

Public Security Gilad Erdan attends a conference on the Temple Mount, held at the Israeli parliament on November 07, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Public Security Gilad Erdan attends a conference on the Temple Mount, held at the Israeli parliament on November 07, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

And yet, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, speaking in the Knesset on Monday, said he did not anticipate violence should the evacuation go through. (He held out hope that it will be prevented entirely.)

“The majority or all are law-abiding and will not lift a hand against a policeman,” Erdan said, during a “Question Time” session in the plenum.

“I don’t think that we should expect images similar to what happened in Amona 10 years ago,” he added.

However, that may be wishful thinking.

Barricades and burning tires

Following the High Court’s decision to reject a government request to postpone the demolition, representatives of Amona vowed to “stand as a fortified wall” against the move, alongside “supporters from across the country who will come here to protest the evacuation.”

If previous protests against demolitions are any indication, that “fortified wall” will likely entail militant activists who “barricade themselves in targeted buildings, erect roadblocks, burn tires or summon mass protests,” according to the International Crisis Group response, which cited multiple evacuation incidents.

Israelis from the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ofra and Amona hold a demonstration demanding the approval of a bill legalizing West Bank outposts, near the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israelis from the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ofra and Amona hold a demonstration demanding the approval of a bill legalizing West Bank outposts, near the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

To prevent such scenarios, Israeli forces — soldiers, border guards, and uniformed and undercover police officers — try to keep as many people away as possible. The area is declared a “closed military zone.” Entrance is forbidden, and the main roads surrounding the outpost are shut down.

According to a Channel 2 news report on Monday, at least 3,000 police officers are expected to carry out the evacuation.

Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces as demolition starts of the Dreinoff buildings in the settlement of Beit El, in the West Bank, on 29 July, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces as demolition starts of the Dreinoff buildings in the settlement of Beit El, in the West Bank, on 29 July, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

The army generally provides security around the perimeter, while border guards and police handle the actual evacuation. This is done in large part to prevent images of soldiers taking people out of their homes like those from the evacuation of the Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza in 2005 — and the emotions that arise in response.

The tactic of closing off the area is best done with an element of surprise to ensure the smallest number of protesters are inside the “closed military zone” as the evacuation begins. The exact date of the demolition is therefore kept quiet so activists are caught off-guard.

‘Settlers have informers in the army from the highest ranks down’

The problem is that this information often gets leaked to activists ahead of time by members of the security forces who are sympathetic to their cause.

“Settlers have informants in the army from the highest ranks down. You need to limit the number of decision-makers to retain an element of surprise,” an army reservist who helped plan the evacuation of a building in Hebron in 2009 told the Crisis Group.

In the days since the High Court announced its decision, the residents of Amona have been preparing to bring in protesters, even if the main roads are shut down.

Tents being set up near caravan homes at the unauthorized Israeli outpost of Amona, in the West Bank, on November 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Tents being set up near caravan homes at the unauthorized Israeli outpost of Amona, in the West Bank, on November 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The protesters have begun setting up tents and sleeping areas for the thousands of protesters they expect to arrive.

Speaking to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, one of the protest’s organizers, Etzion David, revealed that he and his fellow activists were also scouting out alternative paths into the area.

“We have a plan for access routes, and there will be cars and jeeps that will transport people. The army is going to close [it down], and we’ll take care of making sure that people come anyway,” he said.

Marissa Newman and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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