Israeli forces and West Bank settlers on Wednesday braced for the looming evacuation of an outpost whose slated destruction could rupture Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s narrow coalition, dominated by ultranationalists who support settlements.
The military issued eviction orders the day before telling residents to evacuate Amona within 48 hours and blocked roads leading to the outpost. It was unclear when that deadline expires. Thousands of soldiers and police gathered around Amona early Wednesday morning. A few dozen settlers set fire to tires at the entrance to the outpost and threw stones at Israeli forces. Israeli police and military had no immediate comment.
Bilha Schwarts, 24, came along with her husband and nine-month-old daughter to support the residents. “If they want it they can take it, we will not fight. We will leave but we will come back,” she told The Associated Press
On the hilltop, youngsters smashed tiles, gathered rusty metal bars and large rocks to erect makeshift barricades to slow the advance of forces when the evacuation begins.
Media showed footage of activists gathered in homes, singing religious songs and dancing.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said that as part of “the dialogue” with residents ahead of the evacuation, one of the families handed over to officers a bag of stun grenades and other munitions of that caliber. She called on residents and settler leaders to exercise restraint. Channel 2 TV said some families began leaving at about 10:30 a.m. local time.
Amona is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts erected in the West Bank without permission but generally tolerated by the Israeli government. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Amona was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished. It has set Feb. 8 as the final date for it to be destroyed.
The outpost, built in the 1990s, stretches out over a rugged, grassy hilltop and looks out across the valley onto Palestinian villages. In 2006, Israeli police demolished nine homes at Amona, setting off clashes pitting settlers and their supporters against police and soldiers. Several dozen trailers have remained and the outpost has become a symbol for the settlement movement.
About 50 families, some 250 people, live in Amona now. In recent weeks dozens of supporters have arrived to face off against Israeli forces. Residents have said they plan to resist their evacuation peacefully.
“This is a dark day for us, for Zionism, for the state and for the great vision of the Jewish people returning to its homeland,” Avichay Buaron, a spokesman for Amona, told Channel 2 TV.
The fate of Amona has threatened to destabilize Netanyahu’s narrow coalition that includes the pro-settler party Jewish Home and other hardliners.
Netanyahu has struggled to find a balance between appeasing his settler constituents and respecting Israel’s Supreme Court, which has drawn the ire of hard-liners by ruling against the settlers.
Bezalel Smotrich, a lawmaker from the Jewish Home party, was one of several politicians who went to Amona to show support. “There is a great pain, a huge disappointment. They are uprooting a community in Israel. It is a terrible thing,” he told Channel 2 TV.
While readying to evacuate Amona, Israel announced plans to build 3,000 homes in the West Bank late Tuesday. The Palestinians claim the territory along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future independent state — a position that has wide international backing.
The election of Donald Trump, who has promised to be far more supportive of Israel than his predecessor, has emboldened Israel’s settlement movement. His campaign platform made no mention of a Palestinian state, a cornerstone of two decades of international diplomacy in the region, and he has signalled that he will be far more tolerant of Israeli settlement construction.