NETIV HA’AVOT, West Bank — Speaking at a ceremony marking the inauguration of a new monument in memory of three fallen IDF soldiers in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost on Sunday, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid praised the settlers present for their bravery.
“This monument, the way it was built, its story, is a story of courage. It is a story about the ability to act from a moral compass,” he said.
“If [Emmanuel Moreno] were here, he would be proud of you. He would think you were brave,” the centrist party leader said to the crowd of 500 that gathered to memorialize Moreno, Yochai Klangel and Ezra Asher, who were killed fighting in Lebanon in the Second Lebanon War.
The High Court of Justice ruled that the original monument, which featured a rest spot for hikers in memory of the fallen trio, erected for the trio had to be destroyed because it was built on private Palestinian land. The ceremony was to dedicate a new iteration of the monument that was built roughly 70 feet away, in an area designated as state land.
Netiv Ha’avot was established in 2001 as an extended neighborhood of the Elazar settlement southwest of Bethlehem. Residents of the nearby village of al-Khader along with the Peace Now settlement watchdog petitioned the High Court of Justice against it, claiming Palestinian ownership of the land on which the outpost is built.
In September 2016, the court ruled that 17 buildings in the neighborhood — among them the monument — had in fact been constructed on private Palestinian land and ordered that the houses (15 of the 17 structures) be demolished by a year and a half later, on March 8, 2018. The two non-housing structures — the monument and a small wood shop — were slated for demolition by March 2017.
While Sunday’s ceremony was centered around the dedication, each of the eight speakers made a point of demonstrating their support for the residents of the settlement where the monument stood.
Joining Lapid at Netiv Ha’avot were Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home), deputy defense minister Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home), Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Neeman as well as representatives from the Moreno and Asher families.
While Bennett did not hold back in his admiration for Netiv Ha’avot settlers, calling them “the salt of the earth,” the Jewish Home leader used the beginning of his remarks to relate to Friday’s terror attack in Halamish, in which three members of the Salomon family were brutally murdered.
He shared with the crowd some of the lesser known details of the attack, centering around the heroics of Elad Solomon. After 19-year-old Palestinian Omar al-Abed entered the house and stabbed to death his father Yosef and sister Chaya, Elad understood that he was the last line of defense protecting his wife Michal and five kids, who were hiding in a room upstairs. The 36-year-old lunged at Abed, fighting him with just his fists. The Palestinian teen managed to make Elad his third victim, but the father of five was able to delay Abed long enough for a neighbor who heard the screams to arrive, and shoot and injure the terrorist through the Salomons’ kitchen window.
Each of the other speakers also dedicated portions of their remarks to the Halamish attack. Ben Dahan connected it to the plight of Netiv Ha’avot residents and to the overall settlement enterprise, saying that the outpost needs to be legalized, so that Palestinian residents recognize “we have returned to our homeland and we will not be going anywhere.”
Lapid’s connection to the monument has been longstanding. In December, the lawmaker slammed Peace Now for its role in a petition to the High Court of Justice calling for the monument to be removed due to itslocation. In a letter to the organization’s Director General Avi Buskila, Lapid said that the NGO was “debasing the honor of the dead.” However, his calls for Peace Now to delay the demolition were unsuccessful, and the original monument was destroyed in April.
Determined to avoid the fate of residents of the Amona outpost and a section of the Ofra settlement, who saw their homes demolished earlier this year following similar High Court rulings, Netiv Ha’avot locals have wasted little time waiting for the government to respond to their private requests to prevent the demolition of the houses.
Some 60 residents gathered outside the Knesset last week to protest the slated destruction, and Netiv Ha’avot activist Ami Gvirtzman told the crowd that a protest tent will be set up opposite the Prime Minister Office on Monday to amplify their demand that Benjamin Netanyahu either prevent the demolition or put forth an alternative housing solution for those set to lose their homes in less than eight months.
Netiv Ha’avot residents present at Sunday’s ceremony expressed optimism, despite the High Court ruling. “We live in Gush Etzion. This is the consensus of the consensus,” said Benny Saville. “This is not the same situation as Amona or Ofra,” he insisted. The 47-year-old said he hoped the court would agree to re-hearing on the fate of the homes so that the judges would have an opportunity to “come and see that they were mistaken.”
Shmuel Moreno, the brother of one of the soldiers for whom the monument was erected, said that Emmanuel would have been proud of the stand that Netiv Ha’avot residents are making. “When Gush Etzion settlement is strengthened, Jerusalem is strengthened as well.”