Hundreds of Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers were taking part in a training exercise this week at an IDF base in southern Israel ahead of the evacuation of the West Bank outpost of Amona, set for later this month.
The training was conducted at the Tze’elim base in the Negev Desert. Simulations of various scenarios included the forcible evacuation of people passively resisting, as well violent reactions, according to a report on Israel’s Channel 2 News on Thursday.
The troops and officers also trained for a possible need to cordon off the illegal outpost to secure the evacuation, which is expected to take place before or on December 25, a deadline set by the High Court in a ruling determining it was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
A number of senior police officers, including Commissioner Roni Alsheich, visited the base this week to observe the training.
On Thursday, an email by the campaign against the demolition of Amona was sent out widely urging people from all over the country to come to the outpost to help prevent its evacuation.
Perhaps in order to impute a sense of urgency, the email suggested the evacuation would take place this Saturday evening, December 11, two weeks ahead of the date set by the High Court. The email included an invitation with instructions [Hebrew] to bring warm clothes, a sleeping bag, a tent, toilet paper, a camera and food.
Earlier Thursday, dozens of Amona residents held a protest at the High Court in Jerusalem against the ruling, shouting, “End the High Court’s dictatorship!”
“We can’t accept the fact that a group of people who represent maybe a tiny percentage of the Israeli population will impose its will on the public,” said Uri Kirshenbaum, a representative of the group “Derech Haim,” which organized the protest. “Today it’s Amona residents [who are being forced to evacuate]… tomorrow it could be anyone else.”
Late Wednesday, Israeli lawmakers approving the first reading of the controversial Regulation Bill in a late night vote that followed a five-hour Knesset debate. The vote was another step toward legalizing thousands of settler homes built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank and was originally designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of Amona.
But earlier this week, harried government efforts to reach a compromise saw a clause that would retroactively override the High Court ruling dropped from the bill. The bill would, however, recognize other settlements built on private Palestinian land.
The legislation — slammed by the US, the EU and the UN as a breach of international law — stipulates that settlement construction in the West Bank that was carried out in good faith, namely without the knowledge that the land was privately owned, would be recognized by the government provided the settlers had some kind of state assistance — which in some cases could be as simple as having existing infrastructure, since most infrastructural services fall under the purview of state ministries.
Under the bill, the government will be able to appropriate land for its own use if the owners are not known. If the owners are known, they will be eligible for either yearly damages amounting to 125 percent of the value of leasing the land, a larger financial package valued at 20 years’ worth of leasing the plots, or alternate plots.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned that the bill breaches both local and international law, and indicated that the High Court is likely to strike it down. Some officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who voted for the bill along with all but one member of his coalition — have warned that the law could see Israeli officials prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The bill is expected to pass its final readings by December 14.