ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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Security forces begin emptying Evyatar outpost, reoccupied by settlers after attack

Hundreds spend night at hilltop location; National Security Minister Ben Gvir asks Netanyahu to allow them to stay as a response to deadly shooting of two brothers by Palestinian

Screen capture from video of security forces evacuating the illegal Evyatar outpost, February 27, 2023. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law.)
Screen capture from video of security forces evacuating the illegal Evyatar outpost, February 27, 2023. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law.)

Security forces began evacuating the Evyatar settlement outpost on Monday morning after hundreds of settlers spent the night on the West Bank hilltop, vowing to resettle the site in response to the killing of two Israeli brothers the day before.

A statement on behalf of outpost activists claimed that two attempts were made to clear the outpost during the night but security forces were unable to dislodge the settlers who were there.

Though forces were able to remove people from the site on their third attempt in the morning, driving them away in buses, many simply returned by foot to the outpost, the statement claimed.

Video showed Border Police officers engaged in the evacuation carrying away settlers, in some cases on stretchers.

Later on Monday morning, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir convened his far-right Otzma Yehudit Knesset faction in Evyatar, and declared that Sunday’s terror attack proved the country was at war, and said that Israel must “crush” its enemies, including through targeted killings of leaders of Palestinian terror groups.

“It is a war for our home, for our lives, and the time has come to stop the policy of containment,” said Ben Gvir.

“We need to crush the enemy. The leading inciters, the heads of the organizations need to be taken out. We need to carry out targeted eliminations,” continued the ultranationalist minister, specifying he was referring to “terrorists.”

He criticized, however, the violent riot carried out by dozens of settlers in Huwara following Sunday’s terror attack, and called on the public to refrain from vigilante action.

“I understand the difficult emotions. But this is not the way. We do not take the law into our own hands. The government of Israel, the State of Israel, the IDF, the security forces — they are the ones who need to crush our enemies,” insisted Ben Gvir, who is responsible for the police.

It was Ben Gvir’s first public comments on the rampage, nearly 18 hours after it started.

He also mentioned a letter he sent earlier on Monday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he called on the premier to allow the settler activists who unlawfully entered Evyatar to be allowed to remain in the settlement as a response to the killing of brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv in the Howard terrorist attack.

The Otzma Yehudit leader noted in his letter commitments made in the coalition agreements to legalize Evyatar, and insisted that all parties in the coalition agree that this plan should be implemented.

“Yesterday, dedicated citizens went up to the settlement in response to the awful terror attack in which the brothers Hallel Menachem and Yigal Yaakov Yaniv from Har Bracha were murdered,” wrote Ben Gvir, calling “strengthening the settlements” an “important tool” in fighting terrorism.

“Since there is agreement [among the coalition] over the settlement, it would be just and right to allow these righteous citizens to remain in place,” insisted Ben Gvir.

Ben Gvir holds the national security portfolio, which gives him control over the police, and has demanded control of the Border Police, which generally operates under the military.

Settlements and National Missions Minister Orit Strock of the ultranationalist Religious Zionism party said she and her colleagues had “fought through the night” so that the activists who went to Evyatar would not be evacuated, and promised that the settlement would soon be legalized.

In an interview with Kan Radio, Strock said, “The return to Evyatar is our mission and we intend to fulfill the agreement to return very soon,” in reference to the coalition agreements. But she declined to provide a timeline for such a step.

Religious Zionism MK Zvi Sukkot, who was one of those who first established the outpost, joined the settlers for the night.

“The correct response to terror is settlement construction. That is what will deter the vile terrorists and that is how we should respond, including a full return to the Evyatar settlement today,” he said.

The outpost has been vacant since 2021, when residents agreed to leave as part of a deal with the government, which pledged not to raze their homes while the state carried out a survey to determine what parts of the hilltop could be built on and what areas are under private Palestinian ownership.

The move to retake the hilltop Sunday occurred as other settlers rampaged in and around the nearby town of Huwara, setting fire to dozens of homes and cars. One Palestinian man was shot dead during the rioting, the Palestinian health ministry said, and 20 more were injured, some seriously. Six people were detained by Israeli forces.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group in Jerusalem, on February 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Both the outpost resettlement and mob violence were sparked by a shooting attack on a road through Huwara in which a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a car carrying the Yaniv brothers, killing them both.

Settlers arrived at Evyatar after dark, calling on compatriots to join them in overtaking the hilltop. Dozens of men packed a building that had been slated to be used as a yeshiva, singing dirges and celebrating their return to the former outpost, as others argued with police attempting to remove them.

A road to the hilltop settlement is normally blocked by IDF soldiers manning a guard booth, but settlers said they were able to ascend the hill without scuffling with troops, the Ynet news site reported.

Brothers Hallel (left) and Yagel Yaniv, who were killed in a terror attack in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Courtesy)

Critics have expressed fears in recent months that  Netanyahu’s far-right, pro-settlement government would embolden settlers to grab land and attack or intimidate Palestinians without fear of repercussions.

Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, has tried to use his role as a minister within the Defense Ministry to stop the Civil Administration from carrying out settler evacuation orders, though he has run into opposition from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of the Likud party.

Under the terms of the agreement reached over the fate of the outpost in 2021, settlers left the outpost peacefully and the area became a closed military zone, with the houses and roads remaining in place and a detachment of soldiers moving in.

As part of the deal, reached under the previous government, a survey was carried out that reportedly determined that part of the land was not owned by Palestinians, but there has since been no formal announcement that the outpost could be authorized and settlers could move back.

On Sunday, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said Israel would “authorize nine outposts and approve 9,500 new housing units in Judea and Samaria,” in the coming months. The statement was in response to a joint communiqué issued after a meeting of senior officials from Jordan, Egypt, the US, Palestinian Authority and Israel said Jerusalem had agreed to freeze new settlement projects.

The outpost was named for Evyatar Borovsky, who was murdered in a stabbing attack at Tapuah Junction by a Palestinian in 2013. Several dozen settler families moved to the site in response, which has had previous incarnations as outposts that were razed by Israeli authorities, and established the yeshiva.

Palestinians in nearby villages say the outpost was built on their land and fear it will grow and merge with larger settlements nearby. Before the settlers left in 2021, Palestinians held near-daily protests that led to violent clashes with Israeli troops.

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