Residents of the Netiv Ha’avot West Bank outpost hosted roughly 1000 youth for the Sabbath this weekend in an effort to recruit support ahead of the March demolition of 15 homes in the illegal offshoot of the Elazar settlement.
Despite the cold and rainy conditions, dozens of groups from schools, yeshivas, and youth organizations in addition to individual families from across the country amassed on the settlement in the Etzion Bloc, arriving Friday afternoon and staying through Saturday evening.
The supporters came together for Friday night services in the outpost’s synagogue, followed by a tisch gathering where they sang songs and were briefed by Netiv Ha’avot residents on the upcoming demolition and the reasons behind it.
Settler youth, particularly teenage boys, have been a fixture at government demolitions of settlements and illegal outposts, congregating in the buildings slated for razing and sometimes even clashing with security forces in an effort to slow down the inevitable.
Responding to a petition submitted by a group of Palestinians claiming ownership of the land, the High Court of Justice in September 2016 ordered the state to demolish 17 illegally built homes in the Elazar neighborhood.
The razings of two non-residential structures were sanctioned to be carried out on earlier dates. A memorial for fallen IDF soldiers was removed in May and a woodshop was demolished amid extensive protests in November. The remaining 15 homes are slated to be bulldozed on March 6.
“The purpose of the Shabbat was to generate representatives on behalf of Netiv Ha’avot throughout the entire country so that our cry will be heard across all of the land,” outpost resident Rachel Bulvik told The Times of Israel.
“Instead of cozying up under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate, the public bared the conditions and came out to support us. All the more so they will do the same in March,” she added.
Individuals and smaller families slept at the homes of Elazar residents and larger groups of youth bunked in sleeping bags at various auditoriums and community buildings throughout the settlement, Bulvik said.
She claimed it wasn’t a coincidence that a day before the gathering, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing West Bank construction published a plan in which it sought to provide retroactive building permits to 11 of the 15 homes sanctioned to be destroyed.
The plan — which is slated to be approved on Wednesday — represents a last-ditch attempt by the government to save a majority of the homes after the High Court rejected a compromise proposed by the residents, to cut off the “problematic parts” of six houses that only marginally sit on private Palestinian land by a number of meters.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog called the plan a “disgrace,” arguing that it violated the High Court order. The NGO said it would file an objection if the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee accepts the proposal.
Bulvik also condemned the plan, saying it didn’t provide a solution for the remaining homes sanctioned for demolition, including hers. “Because they are saving some of the homes that makes the razing of others okay?” she asked.
She conceded that the homes would likely be demolished eventually but called on the government to delay the bulldozing until after alternative permanent houses are built for the residents. “We won’t accept being turned into refugees and we won’t let the government carry out the March demolition quietly,” Bulvik said.
While she admitted that construction of the homes was not carried out in a legal manner, Bulvik insisted that settlers are left with no choice but to build first and only afterward seek authorization. “This is how it was done within the Green Line as well,” she argued.
The weather cleared for a few hours in the late afternoon on Saturday and the visitors gathered outside the outpost’s synagogue for a late afternoon meal.
The youth then recited together the havdalah blessing marking the end of the Sabbath. At the conclusion of the prayer, the youth burst into song based on a verse from the Bible (Genesis 13:15) where God promises Abraham that all the land he sees before him will be given to his offspring. However, the youth changed the words of the verse slightly to sing “We will not give up Netiv Ha’avot / It is ours and we will not give it to anyone.”