Ofra settlement homes bulldozed after final protesters evacuated
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Ofra settlement homes bulldozed after final protesters evacuated

Police special forces remove right-wing activists barricaded on roofs of 9 illegal buildings, allowing army machinery to begin demolitions

A bulldozer destroys a home built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Ofra on March 1, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
A bulldozer destroys a home built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Ofra on March 1, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Security forces were bulldozing nine homes built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Ofra Wednesday afternoon, after police finished evacuating the last remaining protesters from the roof of one of the houses.

The operation to evacuate the nine houses built on private Palestinian land began on Tuesday, with police removing right-wing activists from the houses in intermittently violent clashes throughout the day.

After successfully evacuating all but one of the structures on Tuesday, police decided to wait until Wednesday morning to remove dozens of demonstrators who had barricaded themselves on the second floor and roof of the last occupied house. Some 15 youths spent the night in the rain on the roof, Israel Radio reported.

Police told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that they did not intend to forcefully remove the protesters from the rooftops and would instead close off the buildings and wait for them to come down on their own.

Protesters on the rooftop of a home during an operation to evacuate nine homes in the Jewish settlement of Ofra, in the West Bank, February 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Protesters on the rooftop of a home during an operation to evacuate nine homes in the Jewish settlement of Ofra, in the West Bank, February 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

However, police changed tack on Wednesday, sending special forces officers onto the roof in order to remove the holed-up activists.

With the evacuation complete, IDF bulldozers began demolishing the eight remaining homes, after having razed one uninhabited structure on Tuesday.

Twenty-one officers suffered light injuries during the operation, a police spokeswoman said, a number of whom were brought to Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in Jerusalem for treatment.

At least two of the injured officers reported they were bitten by protesters on Tuesday.

A police spokeswoman said 15 people in total were arrested over the course of the evacuation for attacking police officers, 10 of whom had also failed to obey police orders by refusing to come down from the roof.

Honenu, which provides legal aid to right-wing activists, said one resident of the settlement was arrested for trying to give food to the demonstrators barricaded on the roof using a remote-controlled drone.

Four of those arrested were later conditionally released after being interrogated, and police have requested the extension of the detention of one of protesters arrested Tuesday. The Petah Tikva District Court will rule Thursday afternoon on whether to extend his detention.

In a statement on Wednesday, a police spokeswoman firmly denied claims that police officers used excessive violence against demonstrators, saying such accusations were “baseless” and that the outbreaks of violence seen were initiated exclusively by protesters.

In a separate demonstration against the demolition of the homes, hundreds of youth rallied at the Chords Bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem on Wednesday morning, blocking the road leading into the city and burning tires.

A bulldozer destroys a home built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Ofra on March 1, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
A bulldozer destroys a home built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Ofra on March 1, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The operation to evacuate the homes came after the High Court of Justice struck down an appeal on Monday by residents of Ofra for the homes to be sealed rather than destroyed.

Hundreds of mostly unarmed troops, dressed in bright blue sweaters, faced off Tuesday against the protesters, many of whom had barricaded themselves in some of the homes, climbing on roofs and calling on police to refuse orders to clear out the homes.

 

Despite calls for resistance by many protesters, the residents of the homes in question did not seek confrontation, saying in a statement earlier, “We will not use crowbars and we will not barricade ourselves” inside the homes.

The court issued its demolition ruling for the Ofra houses in February 2015, and, after a number of delays, set March 5 as the final deadline by which the buildings must be pulled down.

The residents’ request to have the structures sealed off and not demolished would have made them eligible for being spared in accordance with legislation passed earlier this month known as the Regulation Law. The law legalizes Jewish homes constructed illegally on Palestinian land, if homeowners can prove they built their homes in good faith or received government assistance.

Palestinians whose land is expropriated under the law are eligible to receive either financial compensation or alternative plots elsewhere.

However, the judges ruled unanimously on Monday that the demolition of the buildings must go ahead.

The nine homes in Ofra slated to be evacuated. (Google Maps illustration)
The nine homes in Ofra slated to be evacuated. (Google Maps illustration)

The original case against the nine Ofra buildings was brought before the High Court in 2008 by the left-wing Yesh Din legal aid group, which represented the Palestinian landowner.

A report published in the same year by another Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, said some 60 percent of the built-up area of Ofra lies on land that is registered to Palestinians. The claims to private ownership of lands in settlements like Ofra and the Amona outpost are based on the pre-1967 Jordanian land registry, which Israel adopted after it captured the West Bank from the Jordanians that year during the Six Day War.

Judah Ari Gross, Raoul Wootliff and AFP contributed to this report.

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