Netiv Ha’avot demolition may be a sign the settlers are winning

The public wasn’t galvanized to resist the demolition of 15 homes in the Etzion bloc outpost, but that might never have been the goal

Jacob Magid
Video by Luke Tress

Tuesday’s court-ordered clearing of 15 homes in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost featured many of the classic evacuation scenes that have become common across the Green Line over the years: somber singalongs in the houses slated for demolition, demonstrators chewing out security forces for “daring to evict fellow Jews,” and teary-eyed teens dragged from the premises with one officer assigned to each limb.

But, for those present at evictions in Ofra, Amona or even Gush Katif, the scale of what transpired in the Elazar settlement neighborhood was noticeably smaller.

In terms of numbers, the roughly 1,000 demonstrators were about half  the amount that crammed into Amona caravans ahead of that outpost’s demolition in February 2017.

There was also no equivalent to the violent standoffs that were seen on the roofs of the Ofra homes or inside the Amona synagogue. There were several instances of objects thrown at officers in Netiv Ha’avot, but only one cop suffered moderate injuries.

Israeli police forces arrive to evacuate protesters on February 28, 2017 in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, during an operation by Israeli forces to demolish nine buildings. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The most noticeable difference, though, was found in the media’s coverage of the eviction. While a considerable number of journalists were present for the evacuation, reports on the event fell way below ones on the Trump-Kim summit, the Benjamin Netanyahu corruption probes and even the weather.

‘This isn’t Amona’

Settler leaders present Tuesday attributed the more mild opposition to the nature of the population involved.

“In Amona, it was more militant, with residents wanting to put up a fight,” said Shiloh Adler, the director-general of the Yesha settlement umbrella council. He added that the majority of those who came Tuesday were from surrounding communities in Gush Etzion, “which is in the heart of the Israeli consensus.”

Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman said that many of his residents “simply don’t connect” to protests like the kind seen at other settlement evacuations.

Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces at the Amona outpost during an evacuation operation on February 1, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Fifteen-year-old Eitan Kalman, who was among the dozens of boys sitting on the living room floor inside the last Netiv Ha’avot home to be evacuated, said protesting to him meant “being picked up, dragged out and then heading back home to Alon Shvut.”

“This isn’t Amona. Nobody here really wants to leave in handcuffs,” he said.

Ne’eman argued that there was also a degree of disillusion that caused some to stay home rather than fight. “Every additional eviction disheartens the public further. There was a time when people came [to such events] in order to prevent the demolition. Now they see that it’s unnecessary.” 

He insisted that Netiv Ha’avot was not even the “proper address” for those looking to protest. “Today, the need is to demonstrate in front of the High Court rather than here,” he said, blasting the top legal body for sanctioning the demolition after ruling that the homes had been built illegally on land not belonging to the state.

But Adler said “the goal had never been to bring hundreds of thousands of demonstrators” to the Elazar neighborhood. “The era of such protests is over.”

Mixed messaging

But the broader public’s lack of familiarity and interest with the demolition order against the outpost might have had more to do with the way it was framed by the residents.

On one hand, the Netiv Ha’avot families referred to themselves as “normative people” — Gush Etzion residents “living in the heart of the Israeli consensus.”

Youth protesters sitting in one the homes in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost slated for demolition on June 12, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

At the same time, the PR videos they released in the months leading up to the evacuation referred to their moving there as an “ideological” decision made on behalf of the settlement movement.

The desire to dance at two weddings may have lost them supporters from both camps.

While Israelis living in the northern West Bank are typically among the more hardcore settlers one would expect to be present on the rooftops of homes slated for demolition, the distance from Netiv Ha’avot was not the only reason they decided to stay home Tuesday.

One far-right activist living in an outpost near the northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar laughed when asked whether he planned to attend the evacuation.

“You call that an evacuation? It’s a bunch of Ashkenazim singing ‘koombaya,’” he said, mocking the Etzion bloc residents for leading “comfortable lifestyles in their massive villas.”

Demonstrators wait for the police in a home in Netiv Ha’avot, June 12, 2018. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Toward the other side of the political map, one might have expected the residents to find support from lawmakers such as Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who made a point of attending a cornerstone ceremony in Netiv Ha’avot last July.

But by February, Lapid announced over Twitter that he supported the High Court’s decision calling for the demolition of the outpost’s 15 homes.

Losing the battle, winning the war

At the same time, the desire for widespread public support did not appear to be as desperate as previous evacuations.

Unlike Amona, this was not an entire community being uprooted, but only less than half of a neighborhood. Moreover, the evicted residents moved immediately into modular homes built for them by the government on an adjacent hilltop.

They also plan on returning in two or three years to nearly the exact same spot where the original homes stood, thanks to a February cabinet decision to begin legalizing the outpost, which will allow the neighborhood to expand thirtyfold.

Residents of the Netiv Ha’avot outpost in the West Bank leave their home peacefully ahead of its court-ordered demolition, June 12, 2018. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)

They won’t be able to situate those eventual homes on the two narrow strips of land found to not belong to the state, but the residents say they will simply move them several feet over.

Speaking at a rally Monday in support of the 15 Netiv Ha’avot families ahead of the evacuation, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked highlighted a feeling among settlers that they may have lost this battle, but they’re slowly winning a larger war.

“We have changed the discourse from how we evacuate to how we legalize,” she told the crowd of thousands, referencing various plans by the government to regulate thousands of homes across the West Bank that are under threat of demolition. “From this difficult and unnecessary evacuation, we will be strengthened and grow.”

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