Hours before the order for the demolition of the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar takes effect, its residents on Sunday called on right-wing activists to come to the site to “halt the destruction plan.”
The residents said in a statement that they have set up a tent city surrounding the outpost structures to prevent their expected evacuation. They called on the public to bring camping equipment and food “for a long stay,” claiming that troops were preparing for a fight.
“Currently, we are aware of a massive organization of forces for evacuation and destruction, but we still do not know of a set time for the operation,” the statement said.
Last week the army rejected an appeal from settlers against razing the outpost, allowing the demolition to take place from midnight Sunday. Without government intervention, the site will likely be demolished within days.
“The Evyatar outpost was established illegally. Everything was done in complete violation of the law and without any proprietary or planning agreements,” the IDF Central Command wrote in response to the petition.
Local Palestinian residents say they historically worked the land on which the outpost was built, but that the Israeli army has recently prevented them from reaching the area. The Civil Administration, an Israeli military body that manages Palestinian civilian affairs — including West Bank land registration — says it has not determined to whom the land belongs. According to West Bank property laws, uncultivated land can revert to public ownership.
The outpost has grown quickly over the last two months, swelling to roughly 50 buildings for dozens of families. Its Facebook page boasts that Evyatar prevents contiguity between the surrounding Palestinian villages while connecting the Israeli settlement of Tapuah to the Za’atara Junction and Migdalim settlement.
The issue of the outpost has been used by opposition lawmakers to attack Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, accusing him of being under the thumb of his centrist and left-wing coalition partners.
On Sunday morning, opposition MKs from the Religious Zionism and ultra-Orthodox Shas parties visited the settlement, calling on the new government to prevent it from being demolished.
“There are many hundreds of illegal outposts being set up by Arabs around here — even in these very days,” Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich told journalists at the site. “There is one settlement that has been established here on land that belongs to the people of Israel, a settlement that was established to make sure that we strengthen our hold on the Land of Israel.”
“Evyatar must remain in its place and I call on everyone who has a hand in the matter, the defense minister [Benny Gantz] and the prime minister [Naftali Bennett] — you must protect and legalize Evyatar,” he said.
Shas chair Aryeh Deri said the government must intervene and not allow the army to carry out the evacuation order.
“This decision must not remain in the hands of the IDF Central Command,” Deri charged. “The cabinet needs to understand all the implications for the place, for the entire region and for the entire Land of Israel.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said last week that Evyatar would be razed in accordance with army orders and that the issue will not be a source of division within the fragile coalition government.
In his first public remarks about the outpost since taking office, Lapid, who is also alternate prime minister, told Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, that the fate of the community was not in doubt.
“The outpost will be evacuated,” he said last Monday. “It is illegal. It is not at all a question of right or left. It is an order from the army and the civil administration.”
The area around Evyatar has seen repeated clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians in recent weeks following the reestablishment of the outpost. Evyatar has already been razed several times since it was built in 2013 after the murder of Yitzhar resident Evyatar Borovsky in a stabbing attack at the Tapuah Junction.
Palestinians near the adjacent Beita have hurled stones at troops and burned swaths of land, while Israeli soldiers have responded with riot dispersal munitions and in some cases, live bullets. In recent weeks, four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the clashes.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.