NETIV HA’AVOT, West Bank — Police have begun evacuating 15 illegally built homes at the Netiv Ha’avot outpost in the West Bank.
Some 2,500 Border Police officers were deployed to ensure the court-ordered demolition of the homes was carried out peacefully.
Blue-shirted, unarmed Israel Police officers were carrying out the evacuation of the families.
The first 13 homes were cleared peacefully, with the families inside coming out of their own volition. Parents hugged their children and walked toward a shuttle that took them to their modular homes on an adjacent hilltop.
The residents were accompanied by cheering supporters.
Among those present with Rachel Bulvik as police began clearing her home ahead of its demolition was her grandfather Yitzchak Kop. The 87-year-old had fought for the Jewish state in Gush Etzion during the 1948 Arab-Israel War and was temporarily taken into Jordanian captivity when the area fell.
“What makes today so painful is seeing Gush Etzion evacuated a second time,” he said.
In the two remaining homes, the residents reached an agreement with the head of the IDF Central Command that demonstrators will be allowed to “passively resist” the evacuation.
Security forces have saved those remaining two homes for last where they will likely be forced to drag young demonstrators out, one by one.
Officers were deployed in three rings surrounding the outpost, a neighborhood of the Elazar settlement located in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem.
Arriving hours before the officers on Tuesday were hundreds of teens from neighboring communities in the Gush Etzion bloc who are protesting the demolition.
Three of the teens were detained by police for scuffling with officers, according to early reports from the scene.
The 15 homes being evacuated were plastered with posters blasting the “absurdity of the High Court ruling” that found the homes were built on privately-owned Palestinian land, a ruling the settlers argue was reached by a “leftist” court uninterested in compromise.
“I’ve lived in Netiv Ha’avot for 15 years, in this house nine years,” resident Matan Yechezkely told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “Before that, we lived in a trailer. All of my kids were born here. This is a dark day for the Israeli judicial system. It’s a dark day for our right-wing government that wasn’t able to prevent this from happening. It cannot do its job.
“It is unacceptable that the court rules to demolish homes because of 40 centimeters that do not belong to anyone,” he said, referring to a number of homes that the high court ordered be razed after they were found to have been partially built on land not belonging to the state.
“It is true that another 350 housing units will be built here, but we have to draw conclusions from the absurdity here,” Yechezkely said.
Netiv Ha’avot’s residents have called on other Israelis to join them at the evacuation, but urged the young demonstrators to avoid using violence against the police.
Tuesday’s demolition comes 21 months after the High Court of Justice first ruled that 17 buildings in the neighborhood had been constructed on land not belonging to the state, and ordered that they be demolished by March 8, 2018.
Two of the structures, a small wood shop and a monument for two IDF soldiers killed fighting in Lebanon, were demolished last year.
The remaining 15 residential homes were slated to be razed last March, but the High Court granted a three-month delay to arrange temporary housing for the evicted residents.
In February, the cabinet approved a proposal to begin the process of legalizing the rest of Netiv Ha’avot. The remainder of the outpost includes an additional 20 homes that were also built illegally, but were constructed on parcels declared by Israel to be “state land,” and do not stand on private Palestinian property. The residents plan to use the government’s authorization of an official building plan to advance the construction of 350 more homes in the neighborhood.
A group of seven Palestinians have claimed ownership of the land on which much of Netiv Ha’avot was established in 2001, insisting that they were expelled by Israeli settlers. After an extended legal process, the court ruled in their favor, leading it to order the razing.
Another hearing on the issue is expected in the coming months. A victory for the Palestinian landowners would prevent Netiv Ha’avot residents from moving forward with plans to legalize and expand the remainder of the neighborhood, which the petitioners claim was built on their property as well.
Despite the homes having been built illegally, the cabinet in February approved a large compensation package for the 15 families being evacuated, funneling nearly NIS 60 million ($17.2 million) from the Finance Ministry to the Gush Etzion Regional Council — the representative municipal body for the Elazar settlement, where Netiv Ha’avot is located.
Nearly half of those funds — NIS 29 million ($8.31 million) — went toward building temporary accommodations on an adjacent hilltop where the families will live as of Tuesday night.
An additional NIS 24 million ($6.88 million), or NIS 1.6 million ($450,000) per family, were earmarked for the families as compensation for the demolition of the homes.