A dozen IDF soldiers briefly abandoned their posts in the central West Bank Saturday to protest the looming evacuation and demolition of the Amona outpost near the settlement of Ofra northeast of Ramallah.
The soldiers, belonging to the Givati infantry brigade, returned to their posts after their battalion commander spoke to them about the gravity of their actions.
The Givati soldiers “returned to carry out their assignments,” an IDF statement said late Saturday.
The incident came as at least 1,000 people gathered in Amona on Saturday night in a show of support for the illegal West Bank outpost as the court-ordered December 25 deadline for its evacuation neared.
The army and political leaders supportive of the Amona settlers joined in lashing the soldiers’ actions.
“As the army of a democratic state, the IDF will continue to carry out its assignments according to the instructions of the political echelon,” the IDF said, and promised “zero tolerance” toward politically motivated refusal to obey orders.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), a supporter of Israeli annexation of the West Bank who has backed legislation that would have prevented the Amona evacuation, also criticized the soldiers’ actions.
“IDF soldiers must not refuse orders. Refusal is beyond the pale. Even now, efforts are underway to settle the Amona crisis in a satisfactory way that will strengthen the settlement [enterprise] and ensure the unity of Israel,” Ariel said in a late Saturday statement.
Earlier, the Srugim website, affiliated with the nationalist-religious community to which Amona’s residents belong, reported that infantry soldiers from the Givati Brigade were bused to the nearby outpost of Giv’at Asaf. The website quoted Amona resident Rabbi Giora Brenner as saying that dozens of troops arrived in two buses and six or seven military vehicles. Brenner called it unprecedented in the 15 years he has lived in the outpost.
Some 1,300 members of the security forces have been training at the Tze’elim base in southern Israel, as well as at least one other base, for the removal of the outpost, which the High Court of Justice ruled in December 2014 was built on land owned by Palestinians living in nearby villages.
According to officials, the IDF will have overall responsibility for the operation, but will not carry out the evacuation itself. Soldiers will form an outer periphery around the hilltop outpost, ensuring that additional protesters are kept out and securing the operation against possible Palestinian terror attacks. Inside that cordon, Border Police troops will provide backup and assistance to the evacuating force.
The inner circle that will be physically carrying out the forced evacuation of the residents, including many families with young children, will be made up entirely of professional police forces.
That deployment structure is intended to ensure that soldiers and Border Police officers, most of whom are young draftees from diverse political and social camps, including nationalist-religious and settler communities, will not be the ones manhandling the residents.
On Sunday, the cabinet is expected to formally order the establishment of a temporary alternative site for the roughly 40 families who now live in Amona, as well funds for helping the families in their relocation.
As troops gathered nearby and supporters joined residents in preparing to resist the evacuation, tensions ran high around the outpost.
Channel 2 television said Saturday that police were preparing for widespread arrests. The Israel Prisons Service was emptying entire wings in as many as four jails in preparation for accepting detainees.
While a time has not been finalized for the evacuation, the state has said it will not take place during nighttime hours or without advance notice, due to the presence of women and children at the site.
Most of the supporters gathered at the site are committed to non-violent resistance of the evacuation, according to residents. But the many hundreds who spent the weekend with the residents included dozens of activists connected to the far-right “hilltop youth” movement, who turned up with tires and rocks to block the access road to the outpost, as well as spikes to slow down military vehicles, Channel 2 reported. The tires on a van belonging to Channel 1 television were slashed Saturday night.
A dozen or so youths protested outside the nearby Ofra settlements late Saturday. During the protest one minor was arrested for assaulting a Border Police officer, according to officials.
A more convivial atmosphere could be felt among the protesters themselves, as they distributed soup and hot drinks to one another on the cold winter night.
Amona’s residents this week rejected a compromise proposed by the state to relocate them to adjacent land on the same hill.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday posted a video on his Facebook page in which he addressed the residents of Amona, calling on them not to fight the imminent evacuation. The settlers have threatened non-violent resistance, but some have warned that they will not able to control all who come to help them resist.
He called on Amona residents to act responsibly, and “not to harm IDF soldiers and security forces under any circumstances. They are our sons, the apples of our eye, they are dear to all of us and keep all of us safe. There is no place for violence.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also called Saturday for the outpost residents and their supporters to refrain from attacking the security forces. But he also struck a less conciliatory note, saying that Zionism was not “a land grab.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, warned earlier this week that there would be zero tolerance for any attacks on members of the security forces.