Settler youth feel ‘betrayed’ by the outpost residents they vowed to protect
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Settler youth feel ‘betrayed’ by the outpost residents they vowed to protect

Hundreds of protesters, who came to Amona expecting a standoff with security forces, pack up after a deal is struck; some make plain their disappointment

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

Young Jewish settlers react to the news that the residents of the illegal outpost of Amona had accepted a government proposal to peacefully evacuate the outpost and move to a nearby location on December 18, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Young Jewish settlers react to the news that the residents of the illegal outpost of Amona had accepted a government proposal to peacefully evacuate the outpost and move to a nearby location on December 18, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In the age of WhatsApp, word reached the hundreds of fired-up teenagers almost instantly: There would be no protest.

The residents of Amona had voted 45 in favor, 25 opposed and two abstentions for a government proposal enabling a peaceful evacuation of the illegal settlement. And just like that, the protesters were deflated. After days spent gearing up for a protest, and possibly a violent clash with security forces, they no longer had a reason to stay.

Under the agreement, the state will set up mobile homes for 24 of the outpost’s 41 families and the rest will relocate to the Ofra settlement next-door. The government will also request a one-month extension on the evacuation order, which will likely be accepted, now that a deal has been struck.

In exchange, the settlers will leave Amona peacefully.

Protesters in Amona on December 18, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Protesters in Amona on December 18, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

When they heard, some of those who had flocked to the outpost in recent days immediately turned on their heels and made for the exit. Others stuck around to express their disappointment and complain.

The teenage boys, decked in yarmulkes, tzitzit and often sidelocks, and the girls, in long, flowing skirts, grumbled. “We were betrayed,” was a common refrain.

Someone took over the settlement’s PA system to express his disdain for the decision. “They did something dirty behind your back. The people here were weak,” he blared over the crackling speaker.

A minute later, he blasted an emergency siren over the system.

Baruch Marzel, a disciple of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, was also dejected by the agreement. “This is a loss,” he said. “[Israel] keeps believing the lie that this is Arab land.”

Marzel, who in recent days had become a central figure in the protest against the evacuation, headed off in the direction of a friend’s house, but was stopped every few feet by people who wanted to hear what he had to say.

A young Jewish boy walks past an old sigh advertising extreme right-wing activists Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel, and Michael Ben-Ari, in the Jewish settlement of Amona in the West Bank, on December 16, 2016.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A young Jewish boy walks past an old sigh advertising extreme right-wing activists Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel, and Michael Ben-Ari, in the Jewish settlement of Amona in the West Bank, on December 16, 2016.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“It’s a desecration of God’s name,” Marzel told one man who pulled up to shake his hand.

“I don’t completely agree,” the man responded. “I know some people do, but I don’t.”

Though the Amona settlement was first deemed illegal a decade ago, and the High Court of Justice called for its evacuation two years ago, the realization that the order would have to be carried only seemed to dawn on the government a few weeks ago.

As efforts to find a suitable solution ramped up, so did the preparations for what would happen if no agreement could be attained.

Last Wednesday night, Amona residents voted down a proposal similar to the one they approved on Sunday. The notable difference between the deals is that now 24 families will be allowed to move into mobile homes on an adjacent plot of land, instead of only 12.

A Jewish teenager prepares to barricade the entrance to the Amona outpost in the event of its evacuation on December 15, 2016, after residents voted against a peaceful evacuation. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Jewish teenager prepares to barricade the entrance to the Amona outpost in the event of its evacuation on December 15, 2016, after residents voted against a peaceful evacuation. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Beginning Wednesday night, hundreds of people flocked to the outpost. The vast majority were teenagers and young people. Some were associated with extremist groups like the so-called “hilltop youth” and the Lehava organization, but many came from more mainstream settler backgrounds.

Protesters gather atop a water tower in Amona on December 15, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/ Times of Israel)
Protesters gather atop a water tower in Amona on December 15, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/ Times of Israel)

When they arrived at Amona, the more extreme took to reinforcing the outpost’s buildings for a showdown with security forces. Large rocks, spikes and a broken cistern were piled next to the entrance; tires, which could be set alight, were hoarded at the sides of the roads; and one industrious protester worked for hours, cutting metal pipe and welding it to the doorway of a building in the settlement in order to keep police from entering.

In the end, such preparations were in vain.

“I feel betrayed by the residents. They decided not to fight but to go against their interests. It’s against the Torah. It’s not the truth,” one protester who declined to be named told The Times of Israel.

Another, who overheard, joined in, “There are always difficulties in life. The Torah is full of difficulties.”

‘I feel betrayed by the residents. They decided not to fight but to go against their interests.’

But some of the protesters took the news better. “Well, that’s it. We’re going home,” one said mildly.

While the residents and the cabinet have agreed to the proposal, its implementation still requires the cooperation of the High Court of Justice.

After the government offered the deal Sunday to move 24 Amona families to an adjacent plot of land, the Israeli Yesh Din group, which provides legal aid to Palestinian landowners, said it would challenge the move.

The government plans to recognize the plot for the 24 families, known as Parcel 38, as abandoned, thereby providing a legal framework for the resettlement of Amona’s residents there, but Yesh Din said it had lined up Palestinians with claims to that parcel of land.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the court has to approve a 30-day postponement of the evacuation order, something it has refused to do thus far. Still, government officials believe that with an agreement in hand, the justices might be more forthcoming.

In light of the uncertainties, a spokesperson for Ofra, the settlement adjacent to Amona, said that while tensions may have calmed, they have yet to dissipate entirely.

“The fight isn’t over. We’re taking our foot off the gas for a month. If in the next month the state lives up to its promise to build 52 houses and public structures, then the struggle will be crowned a success and Amona will stay on the hill,” the spokesperson said.

“If the state doesn’t fulfill its promises, we won’t hesitate to renew the fight with more grit and more strength,” he said.

“Amona won’t fall again,” he added, invoking a 2006 evacuation of several buildings at the outpost that was accompanied by violent clashes and accusations of police brutality.

Though he termed the fight for Amona a failure, Marzel, the Kahanist, said that the larger struggle was far from done.

“We’ll go to the next place where they’ll try to throw us out,” he said, vowing that he and his fellows would continue their fight “until a brave enough man comes along to say we aren’t going to make deals over the Land of Israel.”

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