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Amona settler leaders expect forced evacuation early next week

Outpost chiefs say they would have agreed to leave had alternative arrangements been credible; teenagers prepare barricades in run-up to ‘vigorous passive protest’

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

Jewish youths prepare to resist the evacuation of Amona in the West Bank on December 15, 2016, after the residents voted against a peaceful evacuation. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish youths prepare to resist the evacuation of Amona in the West Bank on December 15, 2016, after the residents voted against a peaceful evacuation. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

AMONA, West Bank — Leaders of the illegal West Bank Amona outpost said Thursday that they now expect the settlement to be evacuated at the beginning of next week.

Spokesperson Avichai Boaron told reporters at the outpost that residents had originally expected the court-ordered evacuation to begin on Thursday morning, but this did not materialize.

“It seems like people in the right rooms [are] banging their heads trying to find a way to resolve this,” he said.

On Wednesday night, the residents of Amona rejected a government-backed deal that would have allowed them to receive a plot of land on the same hill as the current outpost, with the possibility of creating a long-term settlement there, in return for leaving their homes peacefully.

Following marathon talks that began on Tuesday morning, they voted against the plan by 59-20.

A Jewish youth preparing to resist the evacuation of Amona, an illegal settler outpost in the West Bank, on December 15, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Jewish youth preparing to resist the evacuation of Amona, an illegal settler outpost in the West Bank, on December 15, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The settlers said the plan would in fact only relocate 12 of the approximately 40 families in the outpost to nearby plots considered available.

The other 28 families would potentially move to temporary housing in the nearby Ofra settlement as the state sought a long-term solution, a spokeswoman for the regional Binyamin council, Eliana Passentin, told AFP.

“The government doesn’t have to commit to anything” concerning resettling the Amona residents, Boaron said, “and it’s all dependent on complicated legal issues.” He said they want to go from their current homes directly to new ones.

“We’d waited two days to receive the deal and when we got it on Tuesday night, we were very upset,” he said.

“They put a gun to our heads and said if you don’t agree, we’ll kick you out,” he added.

In response, the Amona residents told the government they would accept being relocated once the promised homes had actually been built, but not before.

The government initially rejected the counteroffer outright, Army Radio reported.

Young Jewish settlers preparing to resist evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost Amona, which is built on private Palestinian land. December 15, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Young Jewish settlers preparing to resist evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost Amona, which is built on private Palestinian land. December 15, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

However, “proxies of the government,” not officials, have been in touch in a bid to continue trying to reach an agreement, according to Boaron. As of Thursday afternoon, these efforts were in vain.

Since the “no” vote, hundreds of protesters have been streaming into Amona and preparing to resist security forces efforts to evacuate the settlement.

During the press conference, a resident of the outpost told reporters that while some of the young children had trouble coping with the stress of the situations, the teenagers were “happy with our decision.”

“They really pushed us,” she said.

Teams of teenagers, under the direction of Bentzi Gopstein, head of the far-right organization Lehava, moved dumpsters to block roadways, prepared tires to burn in the streets and piled rocks next to the entrance of the settlement to create a barricade against evacuating forces.

The teens also prepared the outpost’s water towers to act as a sort of last stand, although their efforts were partially abandoned after a resident warned them that the tanks’ old, thin metal would not safely hold their weight and might collapse.

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)

Many feared the protests against the evacuation would turn violent.

Boaron and the settlement’s rabbi, Yair Frankel, said they were not planning an overly physical showdown with security forces, accusing the government of preparing to act violently against them by “dragging people out of their houses.”

However, he said, although they would “conduct a vigorous passive protest” and drag their feet on the way out, they were calling on all protesters to “respect the Israel Defense Forces, respect the police and respect the State of Israel.”

Boaron stressed that the fate of Amona was not only political and philosophical, but also deeply personal.

“We gave birth to our kids here and we built our homes here. We celebrated our birthdays and anniversaries here,” he said. “We’ve fought to stay at home, to stay in Amona.”

Amona is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts — erected without permission but generally tolerated by the government — that dot the West Bank.

In December 2014, after multiple appeals and delays, the court ordered that the outpost be evacuated within two years.

The deadline is December 25.

The AFP contributed to this report.

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