Thousands of right-wing Israeli activists flocked to the West Bank on Wednesday in an effort to establish six new illegal outposts in the territory.
The massive operation was organized by the radical settler organization Nachala, which prepared detailed plans for where the activists should set up their outposts and which plots of land to move to next after they were removed by the police.
A spokesman for the organization said some 10,000 volunteers participated in the initiative, although this figure could not be independently verified.
Nachala’s activists arrived at six sites on Wednesday afternoon and set up encampments at these spots as precursors to new outposts.
The police began dismantling these dwellings shortly after they were established, but Nachala said nearly 2,000 activists remained at several sites around the West Bank as of Wednesday night.
Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock issued a video message late Wednesday night from the newly minted illegal outpost of Orot Eliezer close to Kiryat Arba with numerous tents visible in the background and activists milling around.
“There are hundreds of families here, hundreds of people, with children, with babies, youth who have come from all over the country and have established a settlement here which should have always been part of Kiryat Arba,” said Strock.
Nachala issued a call to Defense Minister Benny Gantz late Wednesday night to call off the evacuation operations being conducted by the security forces and to “freeze the situation until at least the next cabinet meeting” scheduled for Sunday.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeted her support for the activists late Wednesday night, describing them as “wonderful youth” who are “a real inspiration,” adding “Be strong and courageous!”
She is the only member of the outgoing government to have publicly expressed support for the operation which her cabinet colleague Gantz has labelled “illegal.”
Numerous other right-wing MKs from the Likud and the Religious Zionism Party also expressed their support as the operation unfolded.
During the course of the afternoon, Nachala’s operatives were heard instructing activists to move on to new sites once they had been removed from their original designated location.
The Israel Police and Israel Defense Forces issued a joint statement on Wednesday evening saying that they were “working to prevent the establishment of illegal outposts” in “several locations,” adding that the head of IDF Central Command had issued closure orders for the sites in question.
According to the right-wing legal aid organization Honenu, five activists were arrested during the operation, although the police have yet to confirm this figure.
Ahead of the Nachala operation, the military and police also issued a joint statement, stating that establishing outposts in the West Bank without the necessary permits “is illegal and forbidden” and warning that security personnel “will act to prevent illegal activities in order to ensure their central mission, preventing and thwarting terror.”
At one location on a deserted hillside just outside the Kiryat Arba settlement in the southern West Bank, more than 100 activists, including families with children and young babies, set up an encampment with numerous tents, naming it “Nofei Yehudah.”
Regular police and Border Police officers arrived shortly afterward, however, and ordered the activists to dismantle the site and leave the area. The activists did not resist the police orders, and the site was voluntarily evacuated. The activists intended, however, to move on to “Hill 26” at another location close to Kiryat Arba.
At least three Knesset members from the Religious Zionism party turned up at different sites to demonstrate their support for the explicitly illegal operation, including Orit Strock, Michal Waldinger and Itamar Ben Gvir.
Strock said she fully supported the initiative despite the army and police stating that such activity was illegal.
“The people who came here express the principles in which I believe, that the entire land of Israel belongs to us and it is forbidden for us to abandon it to the Palestinian Authority,” Strock told The Times of Israel while at the Gush Etzion Junction where the activists were gathering.
“Defense Minister Benny Gantz has given free rein to the Palestinian Authority to build and take control of all the land that remains in Judea and Samaria, annex it de facto and create a Palestinian state without any agreement, just by illegally seizing land. We came here to put an end to this,” she said, using the biblical term for the West Bank.
Around 200 activists gathered earlier in the afternoon at the Gush Etzion Junction, before departing for their designated operation sites.
Osnat, 34, arrived at the staging ground with her eight children, including two-year-old twins, intent on starting a new outpost.
She acknowledged that setting up such a dwelling on a barren hilltop without electricity, running water or any basic infrastructure with a family of 10, including young children, would be “a difficult task,” but said that this was “the mission before the Jewish people at this time.”
Like Strock and many other activists who had very similar comments about the purpose of their operation, Osnat asserted that Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli civil and security control, was rampant and unrestrained.
“Arabs are seizing land in an unprecedented manner, they are conquering the land without an army and putting facts on the ground,” she said.
“We have to prevent this. We believe what God instructed us, that this is our land. The prophets told us to participate in settling the land and this is what we are doing.”
Settlement activist groups and right-wing politicians have in recent years increasingly protested illegal Palestinian construction in Area C.
Construction permits are only rarely issued for Palestinian housing projects in Area C, according to the UN, whereas whereas tens of thousands of housing units are advanced by the Israeli government for the settlements every year.
Osnat insisted that Palestinians have no rights to the land, saying they could “settle in Saudi Arabia, Egypt” or other Arab-majority countries.
“Here in Israel there is room for only one people, the Jewish people,” she said.
During the course of Wednesday’s events, Peace Now and other left-wing activists made their way to several locations where Nachala operatives were setting up their outposts in order to thwart their efforts.
According to the organization, the police ordered them to return to within the Green Line.
“These criminals cannot be allowed to raise their heads and harm the interests of the State of Israel,” Peace Now said in a statement on Wednesday.
If the government, the army, and the police surrender in the face of the militias of [far-right politicians MKs Itamar] Ben Gvir and [Bezalel] Smotrich and allow this criminal operation we will stop them.”