The West Bank settlement of Beit El was bracing for violence overnight Tuesday as police forces streamed in and residents and activists prepared to protest against the planned demolition of two structures in the town.
The High Court of Justice has ordered the razing of the so-called Dreinoff buildings, which were said to be built on private Palestinian land seized by the IDF in the 1970s. The court set a deadline of July 30 for implementation.
Early Tuesday, some 50 settler youths had barricaded themselves inside the two buildings in an attempt to prevent the implementation of the demolition order. They were evacuated before dawn by police, who proceeded to take control of the buildings.
Residents say they fear the IDF will now attempt to carry out the court-ordered demolitions overnight.
On the orders of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the IDF declared the settlement a “closed military zone,” a measure available to the army only in West Bank settlements under the rules of its military governance in the territory. Only Beit El residents may enter or leave the town.
Elite police tactical units were seen entering the town early Wednesday, locals reported. Military tractors and other large vehicles were reportedly sighted on the road to Beit El, while hundreds of protesters were said to be gathering around the Dreinoff buildings early Wednesday in an attempt to block any attempts at demolition.
Six demonstrators were arrested late Tuesday, according to Israel National News, five of them minors.
Earlier Tuesday, clashes between the settlers and security forces saw protesters hurling stones at Border Police officers. Hundreds of pro-settlement activists had gathered in the town, located north of Jerusalem, among them right-wing ministers and members of Knesset, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked vowed Tuesday to appeal the court decision. The state formally lodged its appeal as clashes continued at the site Tuesday afternoon.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday slammed the “reckless, radical, and redundant” takeover of the buildings by the security forces.
“During the night, something reckless, radical, and redundant happened here, an act that does not fit the spirit of the government that we are a part of. We will not take part,” Bennett told residents of Beit El in an impassioned speech from the roof of a Beit El grocery store.
Praising the demonstrators’ fight against the demolition, Bennett said “the answer to terror is to build settlements, and not to be cowards.”
“You, my brothers, are continuing this path. We know that the land of Israel is acquired through suffering.”
Bennett said he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu early Tuesday morning, demanding that the government send an official notice to the court that it opposes the house demolitions.
Bennett had earlier singled out Ya’alon, blasting his failure “to soothe” the situation. Several other right-wing legislators later echoed Bennett’s stance against the defense minister.
Levin demanded that Ya’alon, a fellow Likud lawmaker, “retract his erroneous decision and order police forces to leave Beit El,” calling the police takeover a “scandalous move of selective enforcement only against Jews.”
But Ya’alon defended his decision Tuesday afternoon, insisting that while he “has and will continue to act on behalf of West Bank settlers,” he will not allow laws to be broken.
Video released by local media showed police pushing back protesters who confronted them at the site.
Bennett, who leads the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, was himself heckled by protesters calling on him and his fellow ministers to “go back home” and to “quit the government.”
Moments after the education minister concluded his speech Tuesday afternoon, settlers clashed violently with police in an attempt to break into the Dreinoff buildings.
Protesters chanted against security forces, accusing them of “destroying homes in the land of Israel” and yelling, “Jews don’t expel Jews.”
Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) called on Netanyahu Tuesday to fire the ministers who expressed support for the Beit El demonstrators, saying the prime minister would be accountable if “a single hair falls off the heads of one of the warriors in the field.”
The IDF said the Border Police unit in Beit El would hold its position in the buildings and await orders from the political echelon.
AFP and AP contributed to this report.