Police entered the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona Wednesday morning to evacuate the residents, ahead of its court-ordered demolition.
Police were given the orders to empty the outpost, home to 40 families. According to a spokesperson for protesters against the move, about 1,700 people were also on the site to support the residents and block the evacuation. That figure couldn’t be independently verified, however. Several right-wing lawmakers also arrived to show their support.
At least 3,000 police officers were at the scene and began evacuating the outpost, a police spokesman said.
On Tuesday residents were given eviction notices, warning them to be out of their homes within 48 hours. The order allowed residents to file a new appeal to the IDF for a further 48-hour extension. Nevertheless, police began the evacuations a day later.
After over a decade of delays and legal wrangling, the High Court ruled in December 2014 that Amona, which lies east of Ramallah, was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished. Nine homes in the adjacent Ofra settlement were also due to be demolished.
The eviction came ahead of the final February 8 deadline to demolish the outpost.
Shortly after the notices were given, troops began blocking off roads leading to the outpost, in a bid to keep supporters seeking to thwart the eviction order from reaching the hilltop.
Threats of clashes hung heavily over the evacuation as supporters of Amona set up makeshift roadblocks and other defenses intended to keep the army from advancing on the outpost, which was the scene of a violent melee during a 2006 partial evacuation.
Ahead of the evacuation, parents sent their children down the hill toward the adjacent Ofra settlement so that they wouldn’t be involved in the expected confrontations.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel joined fellow Jewish Home lawmakers Bezalel Smotrich and Shuli Muallem-Refaeli in Amona, along with Likud’s Oren Hazan.
Speaking at a Knesset debate on Wednesday, Jewish Home leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the residents of Amona “heroes” and hailed their determination to remain steadfast on the windy hilltop, defying harsh conditions in their struggle to settle the Land of Israel even after it emerged that their outpost was built on private Palestinian land.
“We fought a hard fight but we were confronted with a final court order by the High Court of Justice. We came to Amona and looked the residents in the eye. We knew that we were embarking on a struggle against all odds, but we didn’t give up. Together with the residents, we turned over every stone, we explored all possibilities and exhausted all ways to save Amona,” Bennett said. “To our regret, the struggle over Amona was not successful. We lost the battle, but we will in the war over the Land of Israel.”
In a deal struck last month with the government, the outpost residents agreed to move peacefully to an adjacent plot. But the deal was complicated after a Palestinian claimed ownership of the nearby hilltop, prompting the High Court to order a stop to all work on the site. A ruling on the matter was expected from the court on Wednesday.
As part of preparation for the impending eviction, residents of Amona handed over to authorities a bag containing nonlethal weapons, police said. The bag contained stun grenades and flares, according to a police statement.
Police called on residents “to continue to show responsibility so that the court order can be carried out appropriately and to prevent the eviction turning violent.”
“This is a hard and sad day for the people of Israel,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said ahead of the evacuation.
“Despite the difficulty and the pain, I call on everyone who is still on the mountain – let the police do their job,” he said in the statement, adding that he also calls on Knesset members and public leaders to avoid statements that could “exacerbate the situation.”
Erdan says he expected the police to bring to justice anyone who acts violently.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau called on Amona residents and those who have joined them to refrain from violence against security forces.
“Evacuating a settlement and those living there arouses pain and sadness but we have an obligation to respect the law and not to use any violence towards anyone,” he said. “Everyone should act in accordance to Jewish law.”
Residents of the neighboring Ofra settlement announced that Thursday would be a “public fast day.”
The fast — a Jewish sign of mourning — is being called “over the destruction of houses and communities in the Land of Israel, a merciless and unjust [High Court] ruling, and the wantonness of elected officials.”