Cops encounter 'very severe violence' by far-right activists

Right-wing leaders slam PM for evacuating Amona but not Palestinian hamlet

Netanyahu also takes heat from left after clearing of illegal structures in West Bank, with opposition parties accusing government of emboldening ‘dangerous’ settler ‘militias’

IDF forces seen at the illegal outpost of Amona in the West Bank on January 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
IDF forces seen at the illegal outpost of Amona in the West Bank on January 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faced criticism from across the political spectrum Thursday after security forces violently clashed with roughly 300 young settlers on the West Bank hilltop where the Amona outpost once stood. While right-wing leaders slammed the premier for failing to evacuate an unrelated illegal Palestinian outpost, left-wing leaders accused the government of encouraging the rioters.

Officers who arrived at the scene to carry out a Jerusalem District Court order to remove two illegally installed caravans encountered “very severe violence from dozens of rioters who threw stones, burned tires and threw irons bars” at the forces, a Border Police spokesman said early on Thursday morning.

By the completion of the three-hour evacuation of the settlers who had gathered overnight inside a pair of mobile homes at Amona, 23 officers had been injured, primarily from stones hurled by the far-right activists, and at least four teenagers were hurt in the clashes, according to police.

One officer was stabbed in the hand by a sharp object brandished by one of the teenage protesters. A young demonstrator was injured by a stone hurled by one of his peers. The wounded were all taken to a nearby hospital.

Following the incident, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s newly formed New Right party issued a statement criticizing Netanyahu for “selective enforcement” and urging him to immediately demolish the Palestinian hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar.

The Bedouin village near the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim was built without the necessary permits on what is now considered state land, similar to the dozens of Israeli outposts that the government is now working to legalize. The two mobile homes cleared Thursday from Amona were installed last month on what the Defense Ministry to date still considers private Palestinian land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan, Pool via AP)

“The selective enforcement against only Jews in Amona, in the face of the fear of evacuating illegal and unrestrained Arab construction in Khan al-Ahmar, portrays the Israeli government’s weakness and hesitation vis-a-vis the Palestinians, and undermines the State of Israel’s deterrence,” the party said.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman, who resigned as defense minister in November in protest of some of the government’s policies, called on Netanyahu to “respect the cabinet decision and evacuate Khan al-Ahmar.”

“This morning you quickly took action to evacuate Amona,” Liberman said, asking the premier, “Where was that determination and efficiency” in evacuating Arab outposts. “This is a right-wing government in talk only, not in actions.”

The increased criticism of Netanyahu comes ahead of April 9 Knesset elections announced last month.

The High Court of Justice ruled in May to allow the state to move forward with its plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, which was established illegally without building permits.

In October, Netanyahu’s office announced that the planned evacuation would be delayed indefinitely amid new talks between the government and the ramshackle village’s residents. The delay drew angry responses from both Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers, who have demanded the clearing of the hamlet, which would make way for the expansion of the neighboring Kfar Adumim settlement.

The decision to delay came after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned ministers that a forced evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar could compromise the Israeli position vis-a-vis Palestinian claims against the Jewish state at the International Criminal Court.

Hardline Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, who was present on the night the trailer homes were installed in Amona nearly three weeks ago, was also at the scene of the evacuation Thursday morning. He lambasted Netanyahu for signing off on the move.

“No successful Netanyahu visit to Brazil will overshadow the damage he has done to settlements,” he added, arguing that the premier had done everything he could to avoid demolishing the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, but had acted steadfastly to clear Israelis from Amona.

Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, who facilitated the installation of the Amona caravans last month, released a video statement from the scene, similarly attacking the government for “wrecking the land of Israel instead of settling it.”

Notably, the Yesha settlement umbrella council — which has been less critical of the government than Gantz, Smotrich and other settler leaders — did not issue a response to the events. Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, who was also on site at the caravans’ installation last month had also yet to respond

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay during a party faction meeting in the Knesser on January 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In contrast, centrist and left-wing officials reserved their harshest criticism for the settlers, but also blamed the government and right-wing leaders for allegedly emboldening them.

Labor chairman Avi Gabbay claimed in a statement following the Thursday evacuation that “a handful of extremists in the outposts and the Knesset have grown accustomed to controlling the government and to seeing the Netanyahu government succumb to all their demands.”

“Israel’s citizens deserve a government that does not succumb to the violence of a handful of extremists,” Gabbay added.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said that “anyone who attacks our security forces attacks our country. We cannot allow the rule of law to break down just because it’s convenient for a few politicians.”

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid speaks to the media in the Knesset on December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The opposition lawmaker also criticized the government, saying that “the violence in Amona is the result of the fact that the rioters think they have political backing within the coalition. There can be no political backing for violence against security forces, against the IDF, against police.”

Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy, who in the past was the police commander in the West Bank, similarly slammed the settler protesters, accusing the Netanyahu government of giving in to “extremists in the Knesset” for years and legitimizing the violence.

The left-wing Meretz party said in a statement that “the right wing has seen the rise of violent, dangerous, armed militias. As long as the politicians on the right and center don’t dismantle their outposts and their power, they will grow in strength and endanger the future of the State of Israel.

“These are not individual rotten apples but a whole barrel.”

The dovish Peace Now NGO also commented, saying: “There is no limit to the cynicism and trampling of the law by the settler right-wing, with hilltop youth sent to attack police officers, encouraged by rabbis and politicians.”

“It is time to make it clear to the settlers and their leaders that they are not above the law,” it added. “The organizers and initiators of the new ‘outpost’ in Amona broke almost every possible law.”

The far-right activists accused Border Police of employing excessive force in dragging them out one by one from the two makeshift structures and throwing them on buses to evacuate them from the central West Bank hilltop.

A spokesman for the Honenu legal aid organization that represents such activists upon their arrest said that at least 10 teenagers had been injured.

A police spokesman said security forces detained seven settlers on Thursday.

Footage from the scene shows the protesters coughing profusely after the officers sprayed tear gas inside one of the mobile homes. The Honenu spokesman said the security forces sprayed tear gas in one of the buses as well. The Border Police spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accusation.

The two mobile homes were installed overnight on December 14 by a number of settler leaders, who claimed that the land on which they were placed had been legally purchased from the original Palestinian landowners. The move was described as part of their effort to further entrench Israeli presence in the West Bank following a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks.

However, they did not coordinate the installation with the state bodies and lacked the permits required to make such a move. The Haaretz daily reported Wednesday that there were considerable legal problems with the alleged purchase.

Border Police clear several hundred settler youth who had crammed into a pair of illegally place mobile homes on the Amona outpost on January 3, 2018. (Binyamin Regional Council)

Moreover, the IDF had placed a closed military zone order on the hilltop after the Amona outpost was razed two years ago.

The community was established in 1995 and demolished in February 2017 after the High Court of Justice ruled that it had been built on private Palestinian land. Last March, its evacuees moved into Amichai, the first newly constructed West Bank settlement in over 25 years. The community is located just east of the Shiloh settlement in the central West Bank.

Upon learning of state plans to take down the mobile homes on Monday, the settler group responsible for installing them petitioned the High Court of Justice to block the move. In response, the State Attorney’s Office issued a legal response that gave the squatters 48 hours to remove the structures before the state would do so. That deadline expired Wednesday evening.

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