Settlers attack security forces evacuating illegal outpost in West Bank

Residents of Tzur Harel throw stones, Molotov cocktails at Border Police after some 500 officers dispatched to raze site, reportedly a source of violent nationalist activity

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

A vehicle burns as settlers attack Civil Administration and Border Police personnel involved in demolishing the illegal West Bank outpost Tzur Harel, July 3, 2024 (Civil Administration)
A vehicle burns as settlers attack Civil Administration and Border Police personnel involved in demolishing the illegal West Bank outpost Tzur Harel, July 3, 2024 (Civil Administration)

Extremist settler activists violently attacked Civil Administration and Border Police personnel on Wednesday as they worked to evacuate and demolish the illegal West Bank outpost of Tzur Harel, which the Civil Administration said was built on private Palestinian land.

Some 500 Border Police officers were dispatched to the outpost, near the Givat Assaf settlement in the Benjamin Region, following indications there would be violent resistance to the evacuation efforts.

The decision to evacuate the outpost was made “in accordance with the IDF’s decision and with the Civil Administration,” the Border Police said in a statement.

Rioters threw Molotov cocktails at the forces, the Civil Administration said, after having burnt tires and set a vehicle on fire at the entrance to the outpost when the forces arrived to evacuate the site.

Settler activists also stuck their legs in concrete as part of their efforts to resist evacuation.

Following the demolition of six makeshift buildings at Tzur Harel during the operation, masked rioters threw rocks  at passing vehicles driving on a nearby road, including those of security personnel.

One rock hit the car of a Civil Administration official, smashing his windscreen.

Three of the buildings had been built in the last year, and two of them had only been built within the last few weeks, according to the Ynet news site.

The outpost is named for Captain (res.) Harel Sharvit, a reservist who was killed in fighting in the northern Gaza Strip in January. It is next to the older outpost of Oz Zion, which was illegally established in 2012 and has since been evacuated and repopulated several times.

According to sources familiar with the situation at Tzur Harel, the outpost has been a source of violent nationalistic activity, which led Civil Administration head Brig. Gen. Hisham Ibrahim to conduct a swift operation, approved by the “political echelon,” to remove the outpost.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz condemned the settlers’ actions, saying in a statement, “Throwing stones and injuring our security forces — [that is] a red line.”

Gantz called on all cabinet ministers to condemn the incident and for the rioters to be prosecuted.

“The people of Israel deserve a government that supports its soldiers and police officers,” he said, adding that he was “sending support” to security forces, telling them to “continue to do your duty in all places.”

But MK Limor Son Har-Melech of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party accused the Border Police of violence against the settler activists at Tzur Harel and said she was “outraged” by the incident.

“Instead of protecting brave Jewish settlers who are realizing the Zionist vision, the defense minister and General Yehuda Fox are working against them with excessive violence,” she said, referring to the head of the IDF’s Central Command, which has responsibility for the West Bank.

She also accused coalition ally Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of failing to stop the demolition of Tzur Harel.

Smotrich, the far-right leader of the Religious Zionism party, resides in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, and is a staunch supporter of the settlement movement.

He holds an additional role as minister in the Defense Ministry and has broad powers over civilian affairs in the West Bank through a Settlements Administration set up within the ministry.

The windshield of a vehicle is cracked following attacks by local settlers on security forces during the evacuation of the illegal Tzur Harel outpost in the West Bank, July 3, 2024. (Civil Administration)

“I know how important the settlements are to Minister Smotrich, and because of that I am astonished and demand that he halt the demolition and direct all the resources of the Settlements Administration to expand and develop the settlements,” said Son Har Melech.

More condemnation of the evacuation came from Likud MK Tally Gotliv, who said on X, “It is a moral and ethical failure to evacuate outposts in Judea and Samaria during a war, when they do not destroy the houses of Palestinians who do whatever they want as much as they want [there].

“If Smotrich cannot stop a decision by the military echelon to evacuate an outpost, then best that he should ‘evacuate’ his post,” Gotliv said.

In a speech in the West Bank last month, Smotrich bragged about his efforts to move governance of the West Bank under civilian control, aiming to thwart the potential establishment of a Palestinian state there.

Neither Smotrich nor National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has responsibility for the Israel Police and Border Police, have commented on the incident.

The Border Police said in response to allegations of violence that “Border Police forces carried out the evacuation in accordance with a decision by the IDF and the Civil Administration.”

Settlers clash with security forces as the Border Police works to evacuate the illegal West Bank outpost of Tzur Harel, July 3, 2024. (Civil Administration)

“The officers encountered violence, stone throwing, burning tires and a burning car, and the throwing of Molotov cocktails. The officers used crowd dispersal methods,” the statement added.

The Border Police also forcefully rejected allegations on social media that officers had fired gas grenades into a house.

“Officers fired gas grenades only in open areas, at rioters who threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the forces,” said a Border Police spokesperson.

“Regarding the claim of gas inside a house, it appears to originate from a use of gas that was carried out toward open areas and blown by the wind into that space.

“Rioters were all over the scene, even hiding inside houses and running away to hide masked inside the synagogue. But it is important to clarify — at no point did they fire gas in a formation directly toward a house,” the spokesperson added.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: