West Bank (AP) -- Israeli forces began an operation to evacuate settlers
from a West Bank outpost on Wednesday whose slated destruction could
rupture Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's narrow coalition, dominated
by ultranationalists who support settlements.
Unarmed police in
blue sweatshirts and black baseball caps made their way up the hill
around midday Wednesday. On the hilltop, youngsters erected makeshift
barricades from smashed tiles, rusty metal bars and large rocks to slow
their advance. Some protesters threw rocks at security forces, while
others set fire to tires and trash piles.
Activists gathered in
homes, praying, singing religious songs and dancing. Residents have said
they plan to resist their evacuation peacefully. Some chained
themselves to heavy objects and locked their doors.
A few residents left their homes with young children in the arms.
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
Shortly after noon, bulldozers began making their way up the hill, one of them clearing a path.
activists crawled under a house and chained themselves to its
foundations. One of them, Mordechai, told Channel 2 TV they won't act
violently toward police but ``we will hold on to the ground and not give
up because this is our land that God promised to the people of
Others pleaded with officers to refuse their orders.
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.
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, also on Feb. 1, Israeli
police demolished nine homes at Amona, setting off violent 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 mostly young supporters,
including high school students, have arrived to face off against Israeli
``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.
fate of Amona has threatened to destabilize Netanyahu's narrow
coalition that includes the pro-settler party Jewish Home and other
hardliners. However, it's unlikely that Amona's demise would be
sufficient to topple the government as the nationalist parties have too
much to lose by leaving Netanyahu's government at this stage.
at Israel's parliament as the evacuation was in process, Education
Minister Naftali Bennett _ leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home
Party _ called the Amona settlers ``heroes'' and vowed to ``build a new
Bennett said he is confident a bill that would legalize scores of other Israeli settlement outposts will pass next week.
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.
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
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 signaled that he will
be far more tolerant of Israeli settlement construction.