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5 arrested in clashes as cops try to block settlers from building West Bank outposts

3 ultra-nationalist activists taken to hospital with light injuries; officers allow hundreds of squatters to stay overnight at several illegal encampments throughout West Bank

Settlers set up tents in an effort to establish a new illegal outpost near Kiryat Arba, July 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Settlers set up tents in an effort to establish a new illegal outpost near Kiryat Arba, July 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Police arrested ultra-nationalist Israeli activists in violent clashes late Wednesday and early Thursday, as officers sought to clear thousands from six locations throughout the West Bank where they were seeking to establish new illegal outposts.

Three young activists were taken to Petah Tikva’s Beilinson Hospital with light injuries sustained in the skirmishes. The radical settler organization Nachala, which organized the wildcat operation, claimed officers were using excessive force to remove the largely teenage recruits from the tent structures they had established over the past day.

The activists only managed to erect tents at the six locations, and one of them, near the Kiryat Arba settlement in the southern West Bank, was taken down almost immediately by police.

But law enforcement ostensibly found the remaining locations to pose less of a threat to public order and allowed hundreds of far-right Israelis to stay the night in at least five encampments throughout the West Bank.

It was not immediately clear if or when police would begin shutting down those gatherings as well. They had been ordered on Wednesday by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev to prevent the illegal operation from going forward.

Also participating in the illegal effort were several lawmakers from the far-right Religious Zionism opposition party, whose political base is made up of hardline settlers. Several mayors of Israeli municipalities in the West Bank were also present, with Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz seen praying with a group of the young activists at sunrise on Thursday.

The activists also received support from inside the government, with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeting that the youths filmed clashing with officers were “a real inspiration.” But she was the only coalition member to publicly back the outpost operation, with Gantz and Barlev highlighting its illegal nature and expressing backing for the officers tasked with preventing the establishment of outposts.

In a statement issued overnight Wednesday-Thursday, Nachala pledged to continue its efforts to settle the West Bank, adding that its activists evacuated by police would simply move to another hilltop.

A Nachala spokesman said as many as 10,000 volunteers participated in the early hours of the initiative on Wednesday afternoon, although this figure could not be independently verified.

Nachala issued a call to Defense Minister Benny Gantz late Wednesday night to call off the evacuation operations being conducted by the security forces and to “freeze the situation until at least the next cabinet meeting” scheduled for Sunday.

Ahead of the Nachala operation, the military and police also issued a joint statement, stating that establishing outposts in the West Bank without the necessary permits “is illegal and forbidden” and warning that security personnel “will act to prevent illegal activities in order to ensure their central mission, preventing and thwarting terror.”

Nachala was behind the effort to establish the Evyatar outpost last year. Dozens of makeshift homes were erected overnight in an operation carried out around the time of the 2021 Gaza War while authorities were busy responding to rioting inside Israel. The government, led at the time by former Yesha settlement umbrella council director Naftali Bennett, agreed to a compromise with the settlers in which they agreed to evacuate the area. However, the government pledged to allow the structures to remain and tasked the military with securing the area as authorities carried out a land survey to determine the status of the grounds on which the wildcat community was established.

Israeli settlers and soldiers gather at the wildcat outpost of Evyatar near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 1, 2021. (Oded Balilty/AP)

The survey found that large parts of the area could be declared as state land in a determination celebrated by settlers. However, the government has held off on allowing the ultra-nationalist activists to return to the homes, given that they were still established illegally and that their legalization will spark pushback from the international community.

Among the reasons for their latest operation, Nachala cited illegal Palestinian construction in Area C, arguing that a counter effort was needed to salvage remaining West Bank lands.

Construction permits are only rarely issued for Palestinian housing projects in Area C, whereas tens of thousands of housing units are advanced by the Israeli government for the settlements every year.

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