Fifteen of the 33 families living in the West Bank outpost of Givat Ulpana moved to temporary housing at an army base near the outpost Tuesday. The remaining 18 families are expected to move out of their homes on Thursday.
The evacuation of five buildings from the Beit El settlement neighborhood, as ordered last month by Israel’s High Court of Justice, began as planned early Tuesday morning.
Eight trucks hired by the Defense Ministry to move the families’ belongings entered the settlement at about 7:45 a.m. and the evacuation process continued into the afternoon.
No security forces were present, a sign of the Defense Ministry’s confidence that the evacuation wouldn’t lead to violence. Settler leaders accepted a government offer last week to evacuate the buildings in exchange for 300 new housing units to be built in another part of the settlement.
“We don’t believe in clashing with security personnel,” resident Michal Kramer told Israel Radio Tuesday morning.
Defense Ministry Deputy Director-General Bezalel Treiber said security personnel were making every effort possible to assist in the move and help the residents acclimate to their new homes.
The permanent homes for the evacuated families of Givat Ulpana are expected to be completed within two years.
A handfull of right-wing activists briefly entered the vacated apartments, but left after neighbors shouted at them to leave. One of the activists told Walla News that they would return the next day and hole up in the units, saying that any agreements made with the state over Israeli land were illegitimate.
The families had come to an agreement with government negotiators to leave peacefully, despite earlier vows by some settler activists to resist removal from their homes. Four families had said they would not leave of their own volition, but would allow themselves to be carried out, in a last-ditch passive protest.
Residents began their last morning in the neighborhood with a special outdoor prayer service next to the homes slated to be demolished, before the trucks moved in.
On Monday, the families published a letter saying that while they were leaving without violence, they were not abandoning the hillside voluntarily.
“We’ve reached the point of no return. We’re not happy, and we’re not leaving willingly,” Yair and Rachel Zadok, one of the couples being evacuated, told Army Radio Tuesday morning.
National Union MK Yaakov Katz, on hand at Ulpana, said the evacuation was a case of unprecedented destruction.
“From our sadness we will build,” he said.
The buildings in Givat Ulpana, which a court ruled must be torn down because they are sitting on private Palestinian land, are slated for demolition by July 1 at the latest.
The state petitioned the High Court of Justice on Tuesday to extend the date by which the Givat Ulpana buildings must be removed to November 15. The state explained in its petition that completion of the safe disassembly of the buildings for relocation elsewhere in Beit El would require an additional four and a half months.
It cited the “sensitivity of the issue” and the need to preserve public order and “the rule of law” as the government’s rationale behind transplanting the buildings rather than demolishing them outright. The government had feared a settler backlash should the buildings be demolished.
In the meantime outpost residents will live in pre-fab “caravillas” on a former army base nearby. While the Defense Ministry has worked around the clock in recent weeks to prepare the new neighborhood, some infrastructure work remains to be done.
The deal came after inhabitants of the unsanctioned outpost vowed at the beginning of June that they’d defend their hilltop and turn it into a battle zone if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to remove them from their homes.
Settlers said at the time that any effort to remove them from Givat Ulpana would result in “Amona times four,” referring to the heavy resistance to removal by residents of the Amona outpost in 2006. Some 200 people were reported injured after protesters clashed violently with police officers then.
A Knesset bill that attempted to overturn the court’s decision was defeated in a raucous Knesset session on June 6 with 69 MKs opposed, 22 in favor, and 29 abstentions.
Human rights groups have asked that security forces take preventative action against possible “price tag” revenge attacks on Palestinians by hard-line settler youth.
The Ulpana evacuation is the first of a number of planned removal operations in the coming months, including at the Migron and Givat Assaf outposts.