Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved construction of 300 housing units in the Beit El settlement on Wednesday, as bulldozers flattened two structures in the same settlement after a court ruled they were built on Palestinian land.
The demolitions of the unfinished Dreinoff apartment buildings spurred loud denunciations from some lawmakers, while others protested the violent response of settlers trying to stop authorities from removing the two partially constructed buildings.
Bulldozers began tearing down the buildings at midday, after the high court turned down a 11th-hour petition against the demolition, ruling the buildings were sitting on private Palestinian land that was seized by the IDF in the 1970s.
Confrontations flared throughout the day, with at least nine arrests and six reported cases of minor injury. The demolitions were completed by evening and the hundreds of protesters dispersed.
Jewish Home party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett praised the prime minister’s decision to approve the new housing units and also called for nonviolence by the protesters.
“I praise the prime minister for his quick, correct and Zionist decision,” he tweeted.
“I’ll be there to follow up and ensure this building actually happens,” Bennett added in an interview with Army Radio as the demolitions were in progress and noted the conflicting nature of the dramatic developments. “We have to look at the big picture. A building is being destroyed. And a minute later they’ll build the very same house. This is bizarre, but still….”
The 300 units were originally promised as compensation for the demolition of another housing project in Beit El last year. The move to okay them was pushed by ministers Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin, according to Army Radio.
The announcement to build the homes also included plans to market 91 apartments in the Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev, with plans for another 24 homes. In addition, 300 apartments are to be planned for Ramot, 70 in Gilo and 19 in Har Homa, all three neighborhoods lying in East Jerusalem.
Israeli settlement announcements have in the past been met with stiff international condemnation.
The announcement did little to assuage anger on the ground, where on and off clashes between protesters and police broke out throughout Wednesday morning and into the afternoon.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reportedly opposed green-lighting of the 300 units, as it would be seen as rewarding violence. He asked demonstrators to respect the court order and the soldiers who were carrying it out.
In a tweet, Ya’alon wrote, “I am calling [for people] not to interfere with security forces, with IDF soldiers and Israel police officers in fulfilling the High Court of Justice decision in Beit El and to allow them to carry out their mission.”
Other lawmakers also condemned the scuffles.
“We must respect the law,” Bennett said in comments directed to the protesters. “I call on everybody: no violence. Not to raise your hand in violence. Not now. Not ever.”
Opposition MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) urged ministers to adhere to the court decision.
“The duty of the government ministers is to stand by the High Court decision and not by the building contractors who are violating the law or violent rioters,” she said.
Bennett’s fellow party member Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked declared that although the court decision must be accepted, the homes will be replaced in the future.
“We are living under the rule of the law and we must accept the ruling and with it the bitterness of the decree,” she said. “The homes in Beit El will be destroyed and will immediately be rebuilt. That is the Jewish way, to not lose hope and continuing to build, build, build.”
Earlier Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson filed a complaint against Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev for remarks he made calling to take a bulldozer to the High Court of Justice, housed in the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem, for its decision to demolish buildings in Beit El.
Yogev on Wednesday morning told Army Radio, “We need to put the blade of a D-9 [bulldozer] in front of the Supreme Court. It’s time we put the head judge in her place and show her who’s the majority.”
Yogev told Channel 2 that “the legislature will act to restrain” the court, which was acting as “the tail that wags the dog.”
“Following his statements, I demand that every statutory tool possible be used against him,” Hasson wrote in his complaint.
“MK Yogev is attempting to injure democracy with his wild and unambiguous incitement,” Hasson added. “Instead of calming the storm and calling for the protesters to respect the rule of law, MK Yogev is calling for out-and-out violence.”
Interior Minister Gilad Erdan of the Likud Party also condemned Yogev.
“He is definitely hurting just as much as me as part of a nationalist government that works to bolster settlements, but on the other hand, we are a government that respects the law and High Court decisions.”
Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev responded to the ruling by calling on authorities to similarly carry out demolition orders against illegal construction in the Arab and Bedouin communities.
“The High Court’s decision isn’t surprising,” Regev said. “As I have said in the past, the High Court is disconnected from the Israeli public and the settlement movement. I demand that every demolition order be put into effect and carried out in an equal way also for the Arab community, in the same way that they are carried out in the Jewish community.”