Hurling guilt on top of rocks, Amona protesters target police’s hearts and minds
In contrast to 2006 operation, settlers and officers mostly avoided violence on Wednesday, with supporters of the outpost using insults and pleading to try to win an impossible battle
The night before police began clearing out the Amona outpost, protest organizers told the hundreds of religious teenage boys and girls who had made their way to the hilltop outpost to make the evacuation “as difficult as possible, as long as possible.”
The protesters obliged, and the pushback on Wednesday against the evacuation operation — codenamed “Gan Na’ul,” or “Locked Garden” — was as much emotional as it was physical. In contrast to a bloody battle on the hilltop 11 years ago, protesters seemed determined to use psychological warfare instead of violence to thwart the eviction order.
That’s not to say there wasn’t violence. And it would get far worse on Thursday.
Wednesday’s resistance began with jeers and some rocks thrown from above at police as they organized on the path leading up to the outpost. As police then made their way into the settlement, they were met by protesters, who pushed them and occasionally hurled rocks and paint at them.
Throughout the rest of the day, many officers walked away looking bloody, though they had actually been hit by red dye. Others had baby blue splotches on their uniforms. In one incident, bleach was thrown at the officers, sending several to the hospital with skin and eye wounds.
Hundreds of demonstrators also chained themselves inside houses, tangled their limbs together and put tires around their waists in order to make it more difficult for police to get them out.
But the protesters’ main weapon seemed to be an appeal aimed at the psyche of the officers, many of them 18 to 21 years old, telling them to refuse their orders, that they’d regret this day all their lives, that they were “traitors,” that they were helping “the enemy.”
The residents of Amona and their supporters were upset. After approximately two decades of living technically illegally — but with a wink and a nod, as well as water, sewage and electric services, from the government — on the hilltop, they were told they would be evacuated from the outpost by the end of the December, after the High Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that parts of Amona had been built on privately owned Palestinian land.
That evacuation order was stayed in mid-December after residents reached a deal with the government to relocate most of them to an adjacent plot of land. But the government was blocked, temporarily and then permanently, from fulfilling that agreement by the High Court, as the parcel of land next door was also found to be privately owned.
“It’s not just that they’re evacuating us for no reason, but that they will have broken the deal,” one resident said, ahead of the evacuation.
And so the protesters berated the police officers. They yelled, they pleaded, they cried, sometimes simultaneously.
They realized, to an extent, that the officers were simply fulfilling a court decision and weren’t the ones responsible for it. So most of their haranguing focused on getting the security personnel to refuse to carry out the evacuation order.
“Soldier! Cop! Refuse the order!” was the most common chant in Amona, followed closely by “Don’t expel Jews, Jews!”
Before the evacuation actually began, when the officers were only in the streets, one border guard did, in fact, refuse the order. He was escorted out by other officers, as protesters called him a hero and hugged him.
But most of the officers would just stand there, letting the settlers unload their frustration, without responding.
“Why are you doing this? For a paycheck? What are you going to tell your kids?” one protester shouted at a police officer, who was standing in formation, waiting to evacuate a house.
“You’ll have to live with this for the rest of your life. I don’t know how long that will be. What are you? 40? May you live to be 120,” the protester chided, adding the traditional Jewish blessing.
The officer didn’t respond.
Later in the night, as the temperatures dropped and the police traded their bright blue sweatshirts for more robust full-body winter gear, the protesters kept up their guilt tactic.
Outside one of the homes being evacuated, a demonstrator, standing in just a T-shirt despite the frigid, blustery night, tried to convince one Border Police officer that he could refuse the order without getting into trouble.
“My friend did it. I’m telling you. It’s okay. You can do it too. You can refuse. I’m telling you, my friend did it. He didn’t get in trouble,” the protester said, with tears streaming down his face.
The T-shirt-clad teenager broke down and, sobbing, hugged the speechless border guard. Other Border Police spelled their comrade, who walked a few paces away to sit on the ground and smoke a cigarette.
During the evacuation, the officers tried to be respectful of the settlers’ religious beliefs, having female police escort out female protesters and male police escort out male protesters.
“Why are you doing this? Really? What did we do to you? Why don’t you say no?” one crying teenage girl asked a female border guard, who was maybe a year or two older than her.
“Look, at the end of the day, I have to do my job and enforce the law,” the Border Police officer responded, before taking the protester to one of the buses ferrying people off the hilltop.
While photographs and videos of the evacuation focused mainly on the moments of conflict — the clashes as police entered, the protesters who flailed and lashed out at the officers carrying them out of houses — Operation Locked Garden was carried out with relatively little violence.
Yes, as of Wednesday night, over 30 people — 24 police officers, seven protesters — were sent to the hospital, all of them with light injuries. But not all of these were from violence. Some suffered from hypothermia. One protester injured his leg when he jumped out of a window in order to go to the bathroom.
Amona on Wednesday was not the Amona of 2006, when bloody clashes broke out between demonstrators and security forces, sending some 200 people to the hospital, including two Knesset members and a police officer in serious condition. Nor was this evacuation a repeat of the 2012 Migron evacuation, in which residents of that outpost made a deal with the government that was actually carried out, preventing serious clashes.
The police, for their part, carried out the evacuation professionally. They moved methodically from house to house, and once inside, moved people out one by one. At times, this included some force, but most of it was conducted as painlessly as possible.
Most protesters came out on their feet, while others had to be carried. But once the police took them out of the house, even those who were brought out forcibly were given a bottle of water and were spoken to calmly.
The far-right Honenu legal organization, which regularly represents Jewish Israelis accused of crimes against Palestinians and Arabs, claimed on Wednesday night that police acted violently once the protesters were taken off the hilltop. However, as the group’s raison d’etre is legal fights against law enforcement, these unverified accusations may require a hefty pinch of salt.
In a message sent to the parents of the underage protesters on Wednesday night, Amona organizers noted that the police were “relatively restrained” and had not hit any of the demonstrators.
The evacuation continued until around midnight, when police halted their operations and set themselves up outside the homes that had already been cleared to ensure no one sneaked back in. Earlier in the day, protesters had set fire to tires, furniture and a bathtub, but by the time police paused the evacuation, the only fires burning were the ones started by officers to keep warm against the freezing temperatures.
Things started up again on Thursday morning, with police moving people out of one last trailer before moving on to the protester’s final stand: the outpost’s synagogue.
Approximately 100 demonstrators were barricaded inside, and police were cautious about entering, both due to the building’s religious importance and because those inside were considered to be more radical and potentially prone to violence.
As of 12:30 p.m., police had yet to begin the synagogue’s evacuation, but they had organized outside it.
These last protesters, the police knew, would likely be the most difficult to remove, but they would eventually be brought out, one by one, just like all the rest. And so it proved.
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