Hundreds of Israel Police special forces early Tuesday morning stormed illegally constructed buildings in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, where settler demonstrators had barricaded themselves in an attempt to prevent the demolition of the structures.
Up to 50 demonstrators were detained following scuffles with officers.
Settlers had set up barbed wire and stockpiled tires to burn in preparation for a protest against a Supreme Court decision to demolish the disputed buildings, in the settlement’s Dreinoff neighborhood.
Shortly after 3 a.m., however, police arrived to preempt the demonstration ahead of the demolition. Protesters inside the neighborhood were removed forcefully by police, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.
Additional demonstrators were pouring into the settlement, which is located north of Jerusalem, with the intention of erecting a tent city as part of the effort to prevent the Supreme Court’s decision from being carried out.
“We came to build, not to be driven out,” settlers painted on one of the buildings slated for demolition.
“With my blood, I will defend the Land of Israel,” another sign declared.
Footage from overnight showed police forces marching on the two buildings containing 24 housing units, a large fire blazing to their left.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the pro-settler Jewish Home party accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon of orchestrating the evacuation of the buildings, which he termed a “grave incident” in a Tuesday morning interview with Israel Radio.
Beit El Mayor Shai Alon and Avi Roeh, who heads the Yesha Council settler organization, were at the scene. Echoing Ariel, they took Netanyahu and Ya’alon to task for “strangling” the settlements.
“We call on the prime minister to put his full weight behind the state’s response to the Supreme Court, and prevent the demolition of the buildings, which as of today are fully legal,” they said in a statement quoted by Ynet.
Earlier this month, the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, which manages governmental matters in the West Bank, retroactively approved the structures, but the Supreme Court rejected the motion on Sunday.
A senior defense official said Tuesday morning that the status of the Dreinoff neighborhood was still up in the air, and that the state would only demolish the structures if the Supreme Court upheld its own decision.
“Since the construction of 24 housing units at the site was approved by the Civil Administration, and following residents’ appeal to the High Court of Justice on the matter, in an effort to prevent the demolition, it will only be carried out if the High Court orders it,” the official said. “We’re still in the midst of a judicial process.”
Knesset members from the Jewish Home party and settlement leaders sharply criticized Netanyahu this month over reports of a de facto West Bank construction freeze, threatening in a letter to Likud members to impose sanctions on the government.
The letter was penned after an emergency meeting last week, convened in response to claims that the prime minister had decided to freeze settlement development in the West Bank, as well in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to demolish the Dreinoff neighborhood.
The human rights organization Yesh Din filed the case with the Supreme Court to get the neighborhood — named after its developer, Meir Dreinoff — demolished.
In response, residents of Beit El told Ynet news, “We are praying that they will not demolish here.”
Others added, “More friends from Samaria and other parts of the region have arrived and we will do anything to prevent the demolition.”
“Anything means anything,” one of the protesters added.