23 police officers, 4 settlers hurt in violent clashes at Amona outpost

Police clear 2 mobile homes installed illegally on West Bank hilltop; 7 demonstrators arrested; hundreds of protesters converge on site; far-right activists say at least 10 hurt

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Border Police clear several hundred settler youths who had crammed into a pair of illegally placed mobile homes on the Amona outpost on January 3, 2018. (Binyamin Regional Council)
Border Police clear several hundred settler youths who had crammed into a pair of illegally placed mobile homes on the Amona outpost on January 3, 2018. (Binyamin Regional Council)

Israeli security forces early Thursday morning clashed with roughly 300 settler youths who gathered overnight inside a pair of mobile homes illegally installed on the West Bank hilltop where the Amona outpost once stood.

Officers who arrived on the scene to carry out a Jerusalem District Court order to remove the caravans encountered “very severe violence from dozens of rioters who threw stones, burned tires and threw irons bars” at the forces, a Border Police spokesman said.

“In order to take control of the demonstrators, the forces had to use riot dispersal measures,” he added.

By the completion of the three-hour evacuation, 23 officers had been injured, primarily from stones hurled by the far-right activists; and at least four teenagers were hurt in the clashes, according to police. One officer was stabbed in the hand by a sharp object brandished by one of the teen protesters. A young demonstrator was injured by a stone hurled by one of his peers. The wounded were all takento a nearby hospital.

Security forces detained seven settlers, the spokesman added. Police said three were later released and only four would be charged.

The far-right activists accused Border Police of employing excessive force in dragging them out one by one from the two makeshift structures and throwing them on buses to evacuate them from the central West Bank hilltop.

A spokesman for the Honenu legal aid organization that represents such activists upon their arrest said that at least 10 teenagers had been injured.

Footage from the scene shows the protesters coughing profusely after the officers sprayed tear gas inside one of the mobile homes. The Honenu spokesman said the security forces sprayed tear gas in one of the buses as well. The Border Police spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accusation.

The two mobile homes were installed overnight on December 14 by a number of settler leaders, who claimed that the land on which they were placed had been legally purchased from the original Palestinian landowners. The move was described as part of their effort to further entrench Israeli presence in the West Bank following a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks.

However, they did not coordinate the installation with the state bodies and lacked the permits required to make such a move. The Haaretz daily reported Wednesday that there were considerable legal problems with the alleged purchase.

Border Police clear several hundred settler youth who had crammed into a pair of illegally place mobile homes on the Amona outpost on January 3, 2018. (Binyamin Regional Council)

Moreover, the IDF had placed a closed military zone order on the hilltop after the Amona outpost was razed two years ago.

The community was established in 1995 and demolished in February 2017 after the High Court of Justice ruled that it had been built on private Palestinian land. Last March, its evacuees moved into Amichai, the first newly constructed West Bank settlement in over 25 years. The community is located just east of the Shiloh settlement in the central West Bank.

Upon learning of state plans to take down the mobile homes on Monday, the settler group responsible for installing them petitioned the High Court of Justice to block the move. In response, the State Attorney’s Office issued a legal response that gave the squatters 48 hours to remove the mobile homes before the state would do so. That deadline expired Wednesday evening.

A spokesman for Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, who facilitated the caravan installation along with former Amona resident and community leader Avichai Boaron, said Wednesday they had no intention of abiding by the state’s request to take down the structures.

Hardline Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, who was present on the night the caravans were installed nearly three weeks ago, was also at the scene of the evacuation Thursday morning. He lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for signing off on the move.

“No successful Netanyahu visit to Brazil will overshadow the damage he has done to settlements,” he added, arguing that the premier had done everything to avoid demolishing the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, but had acted steadfastly to clear Israelis from Amona.

(From L-R) Amona leader Avichai Boaron, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich and Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan stand in front of a new caravan that was installed on the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood on December 14, 2018. (Campaign to save Amona)

The Palestinian hamlet Khan al-Ahmar was built on what is now considered state land without the necessary permits, whereas the two Israeli caravans cleared Thursday were installed on what the Civil Administration to this date still considers private Palestinian land.

Gantz arrived at the scene as the evacuation was wrapping up. He released a video statement similarly attacking the government for “wrecking the land instead of settling it.”

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party issued a statement criticizing Netanyahu for “selective enforcement” and calling on him to demolish Khan al-Ahmar immediately.

“The selective enforcement against only Jews in Amona, in the face of the fear of evacuating illegal and unrestrained Arab construction in Khan al-Ahmar, portrays the Israeli government’s weakness and hesitation vis-a-vis the Palestinians, and undermines the State of Israel’s deterrence,” the party said.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid focused his criticism on the youth protesters. “Anyone who attacks our security forces attacks our country. We cannot allow the rule of law to break down just because it’s convenient for a few politicians,” the opposition lawmaker said in a statement.

Labor chairman Avi Gabbay claimed in his own statement following the Thursday evacuation that “a handful of extremists in the outposts and the Knesset have grown accustomed to controlling the government and to seeing the Netanyahu government succumb to all their demands.”

“Israel’s citizens deserve a government that does not succumb to the violence of a handful of extremists,” Gabbay added.

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