Police began evacuating settlers and hundreds of protesters who gathered in nine buildings in the West Bank settlement of Ofra Tuesday, ahead of a court-ordered demolition of the houses found by the court to have been built without permits on private Palestinian land.
As of Tuesday afternoon, eight police officers had been injured. Two of them were bitten, while the rest were wounded after being struck in the head, chest and arms. Some received treatment on the scene, while others were sent to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus for treatment, police said.
Two protesters were arrested. One “attacked officers,” while the other was accused of “disturbing the peace,” according to police. One of them was later released on his own recognizance.
Hundreds of mostly unarmed troops, dressed in bright blue sweaters, faced off 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.
“The evacuation of the nine homes has begun, in accordance with the High Court order. At the same time, negotiations are continuing with the settlers and local leadership, to allow the operation to go forward without violence,” police said in a statement.
As of 3 p.m. on Tuesday, eight of the nine houses had been cleared, police said.
On Monday, the High Court of Justice rejected an appeal to halt the demolition, with Ofra residents requesting that the nine buildings be sealed off rather than destroyed.
The police approached the owners of the nine buildings and explained they were “sorry, but just doing our jobs,” according to videos from the scene.
Officers then began bringing out the protesters from the houses one at a time, according to an AFP reporter in Ofra.
Police videos from the settlement show police officers reasoning with protesters who refused to leave the buildings of their own accord.
Some of the activists were brought out on their feet, while others were carried away by police.
In this fashion, “hundreds of young men and women” were removed from the area, police said.
Other officers used bullhorns to tell the hundreds of protesters to refrain from violence.
Dozens of protesting youths spent the morning perched on the roof or hanging out windows of some of the homes, as more, including settlement movement leaders, more milled about or danced and chanted on the ground.
As the police made their way towards the houses, they were met by a mass of protesters who tried to keep them from advancing by pushing and shoving the officers.
Large posters hanging on many of the homes showed the families who had once lived in them, but had since packed up their belongings.
Inside some homes, residents stood solemnly, hugging supporters and waiting for the police to arrive.
The residents of the homes in question have not sought confrontation, saying in a statement earlier that, “We will not use crowbars and we will not barricade ourselves” inside the homes.
Eight families living in the buildings had already left, police said.
Officers were hoping to avoid the occasionally violent protests at the nearby outpost of Amona during an evacuation earlier this month, and this time came sporting safety goggles in case of clashes.
During the Amona operation, demonstrators threw bleach and other corrosive chemicals at police. One officer was also put at risk of losing sight in one of his eyes after a protester hit him in the head with a metal chain.
A few minor clashes were reported early Tuesday as a number of the young protesters and officers shoved each other ahead of the actual eviction. Protesters began showing up while police cordoned off homes.
The court first 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.
On Monday, the IDF began setting up roadblocks around Ofra ahead of the demolition, in order to prevent right-wing activists from arriving at the settlement.
In response, Ofra residents called on the public to come to the site to protest.
Over the weekend, police began carrying out preventive arrests of far-right activists as part of their efforts to avoid a repeat of the violent scenes that occurred during the eviction of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona earlier this month.
Border Police officers over the weekend cleared a number of far-right activists from one of the buildings set to be demolished in Ofra. Those inside the building, which is abandoned, were reportedly attempting to barricade themselves to resist the upcoming demolition.
Former Amona residents announced on Tuesday they were starting a hunger strike to protest the demolition of their outpost, while also decrying the home demolitions in Ofra.
Amona spokesman Ofer Inbar told The Times of Israel that the timing of their planned protest on the same day as the Ofra eviction is coincidental. “It’s been a month since the eviction. We had enough,” he said.
The hunger strike will be led by the leader of the campaign against the settlement’s destruction, Avichai Boaron, the head of Amona’s secretariat, Ori Shag, and the settlement’s rabbi, Yair Frank, Inbar said. “They will likely be joined by others from the community,” he said. “Mostly men, but I have the feeling that women will also join.”
Earlier this month, over 5,000 people protested the eviction at a rally in Ofra, with prominent nationalist-religious leader Rabbi Haim Druckman vowing at the demonstration that “we will continue to settle the Land of Israel…. We are not thieves.”
The original case against the nine Ofra buildings was brought before the High Court in 2008 by the left-leaning Yesh Din legal organization, 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.
AFP, Raoul Wootliff, Raphael Ahren and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.