Some 60 demonstrators gathered outside the gated entrance to the Knesset on Monday to protest the planned destruction of 15 homes in the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost.
“We’re calling on Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to intervene and legalize the neighborhood in order to prevent this disaster,” said Ami Gvirtzman, an outpost resident and member of the campaign to prevent its destruction.
Netiv Ha’avot was established in 2001 as an extended neighborhood of the Elazar settlement southwest of Bethlehem. Residents of the nearby village of al-Khader along with the Peace Now settlement watchdog petitioned the High Court of Justice, claiming Palestinian ownership of the land on which the outpost is built.
In September 2016, the court ruled that 17 buildings in the neighborhood had in fact been constructed on private Palestinian land and ordered that they be demolished by a year and a half later, on March 8, 2018.
Among the 17 structures are a small wood shop as well as a monument for two IDF soldiers killed fighting in Lebanon. The remaining 15 buildings are homes belonging to residents of the neighborhood.
On Monday, less than eight months ahead of the planned demolition, Netiv Ha’avot residents launched their public campaign, seeking to prevent the execution of the High Court ruling.
Demonstrators held signs reading, “This destruction too is on your watch,” and “Bibi wake up and intervene,” referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. Many of the younger participants blew whistles, hoping to further draw the attention of drivers passing through the traffic circle outside the Knesset entrance.
Determined to avoid the fate of residents of Amona and Ofra, who saw their West Bank homes demolished earlier this year following similar High Court rulings, Netiv Ha’avot residents are wasting little time waiting for the government to respond to their private requests.
“We are not waiting until a month before the demolition to begin our protest,” said Rachel Bulvik, who lives in one of the homes slated to be razed. She went on to explain that not one of the houses affected by the ruling sits entirely on private Palestinian land. “We are talking about a meter and a half of some of these homes that was ruled problematic. For this they need to destroy the entire building?”
While the al-Khader residents had sought to have the entire outpost demolished under the pretext that it was originally theirs, the High Court only deemed two slivers of land in the middle of the neighborhood to be of Palestinian ownership. The rest of the outpost was retroactively designated as state land.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian landowners plan on filing additional petitions, in the hope of eventually regaining control of the entire neighborhood, Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran said. “The settlers claim that the Palestinians only cared about the land in Netiv Ha’avot after the ‘left-wing organizations’ got involved. This is not the case,” she said, explaining that the landowners began petitioning the High Court immediately after the outpost was established.
Speaking with The Times of Israel at the rally, the protester Gvirtzman said the outpost’s residents were calling on Netanyahu to build additional homes in Netiv Ha’avot that could also serve as an alternative solution if the government is unable to thwart the demolition orders. “The left will see that if you take us to the High Court, you will get 20 times more construction in return,” he said.
Between two trees adjacent to the demonstrators hung a large, ostentatious banner calling on Netanyahu to resign. One Netiv Ha’avot resident, who asked to remain anonymous, acknowledged the irony of the protest’s proximity to the sign. “Both us and the left are denouncing the irresponsibility of this government. It just happens to be that the issues we care about are different,” he said.
Gvirtzman added that a group of the residents not present at the rally were meeting with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. “If Netanyahu won’t be the prime minister, then we need to be putting even more pressure on whoever might come after he is gone,” he said.