Protests continued in the West Bank settlement of Beit El Tuesday night and early Wednesday as hundreds of right-wing activists clashed with police forces to prevent the demolition of two structures in the town.
The High Court of Justice ordered the razing of the so-called Dreinoff project in the settlement earlier this week, which were ruled to have been built on private Palestinian land seized by the IDF in the 1970s. The court set a deadline of July 30 for implementation.
Early Tuesday, some 200 settlers had barricaded themselves inside the two buildings in an attempt to prevent the implementation of the demolition order. They were evacuated before dawn by police, who proceeded to take control of the buildings.
Six demonstrators were arrested late Tuesday night, five of them minors, according to Israeli news site Ynet.
Elite police tactical units were seen entering the town early Wednesday, locals reported. Military tractors and other large vehicles were reportedly sighted on the road to Beit El, while hundreds of protesters were said to be gathering around the Dreinoff buildings early Wednesday in an attempt to block any attempts at demolition.
Earlier in the day, the government lodged an appeal with the High Court against the demolition of the buildings.
However, settlers fighting the evacuation said the battle was larger than the scuffles over saving the Dreinoff project, an unfinished building slated to contain two dozen homes.
“It doesn’t matter what will happen here — if the houses will be destroyed or not — this is just part in a bigger fight over the settlements,” a local man told the Israeli Ynet news site.
“We may lose the battle — but not the war.”
On the orders of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the IDF declared the settlement neighborhood a “closed military zone” early Tuesday, a measure available to the army only in West Bank settlements under the rules of its military governance in the territory.
Popular Mizrahi music performer Shlomi Shabat held a concert in the settlement Wednesday night, close to the site of the protest, drawing a crowd of approximately 2,000 people, Ynet reported.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, approximately 250 protesters remained in the now reoccupied ruins of the Sa-Nur settlement in the West Bank, awaiting an official response from Israeli authorities.
Activists returned to the settlement early Tuesday, taking up positions in an abandoned British fort at the site to mark 10 years since the 2005 Gaza disengagement during which Jewish residents were also forcibly evacuated from four settlements in the northern West Bank, including Sa-Nur.
“This is not a course-correction, in our opinion, because a correction has to come from the government. The State of Israel screwed up and needs to be fixed,” a father of nine, who once lived in the settlement and returned with six of his children, told Ynet news.
“It is obvious that there will be no violent protest if they evacuate us, we’re here with babies,” the man said. “We’ll say goodbye and thank you to the soldiers and leave this place.”
The settlements of Kadim, Ganim, and Homesh were also cleared out at the time, along with the larger Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip.
Among those who took part in the reoccupation of the settlement were families who were evacuated in 2005 as well as rabbis, public figures and MK Bezalel Smotrich from the nationalist Jewish Home party.
“Ten years after the expulsion the time has come to rectify, and the start of rectification is here in northern Samaria,” Smotrich said. “I think it that today it is clear to every child in Israel that the disengagement was folly and aside from terror and a Hamas state it didn’t achieve anything.”
Smotrich also threatened to keep the government coalition, with a razor thin majority of 61 MKs, from passing any new measures in the Knesset.
The move to evacuate the Dreinoff project has stoked anger in the settler community and in within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-religious coalition, which includes the nationalist Jewish Home party, which counts the settlement movement as a main part of its voter base.
Earlier Tuesday, clashes between the settlers and security forces saw protesters hurling stones at Border Police officers. Hundreds of pro-settlement activists had gathered in the town, located north of Jerusalem, among them right-wing ministers and members of Knesset, including Education Minister and Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.
MK Oren Hazan, who visited Beit El Tuesday night, told Army Radio he protested the violence. “I told the youth, ‘If you want to raise your hand hit me,'” he told Army Radio.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked vowed Tuesday to appeal the court decision. The state formally lodged its appeal as clashes continued at the site Tuesday afternoon.
Bennett on Tuesday slammed the “reckless, radical, and redundant” takeover of the buildings by the security forces.
“During the night, something reckless, radical, and redundant happened here, an act that does not fit the spirit of the government that we are a part of. We will not take part,” Bennett told residents of Beit El in an impassioned speech from the roof of a Beit El grocery store.
Praising the demonstrators’ fight against the demolition, Bennett said “the answer to terror is to build settlements, and not to be cowards.”
Bennett said he had spoken with Netanyahu early Tuesday morning, demanding that the government send an official notice to the court that it opposes the house demolitions.
The IDF said the Border Police unit in Beit El would hold its position in the buildings and await orders from the political echelon.
AFP and AP contributed to this report.