Border Police Let Settlers Retake Illegal West Bank Outpost

Police blame 'numerical inferiority' for inability to stop settlers expelling leftists authorized to guard site.

The Border Police last week allowed settlers to return to an illegal outpost on Palestinian land in the West Bank and force out left-wing activists who had been authorized to guard the place.

Officials at the Yesh Din human rights group say they had warned authorities of the settlers' plans ahead of time. The Border Police say their forces were unable to gain control over the settlers due to "numerical inferiority."

The incident occurred Wednesday on the Shvut Ami outpost, near Kedumim. According to Israel Defense Forces records, the structure is on land owned by Badriya Amar of the village of Qadum. The outpost has been evacuated nine times, but each time settlers return, preventing the legal owners from reaching the land.

Right-wing activist Datia Yitzhaki, a settler leader in the area, said the structure is "abandoned property" that therefore belongs to the state. "There was an understanding that it belongs to Kedumim and it doesn't matter what the army and the Civil Administration say now," Yitzhaki said.

After repeated evacuations and returns by settlers, Yesh Din, which represents Amar, proposed an arrangement whereby the IDF would allow a group of Israelis and Palestinians to occupy the building to keep out the trespassers.

Attorney Michael Sfard of Yesh Din said the agreement was for the IDF to notify Yesh Din in advance when it planned to evacuate the settlers so that it could send representatives to the venue.

The IDF said in a statement that "the military commander permitted a group of 10 Israelis who were invited by the landowner to enter the site because the IDF recognizes the rights of the Palestinian owners of the building to bring people to the place on their behalf."

On Wednesday morning, the IDF notified Yesh Din of the evacuation planned for that afternoon, but somehow the announcement also reached the settlers, who posted on the Internet calls for supporters to come to Shvut Ami.

Sfard called the IDF's legal department to warn them of the settlers' actions. "They told me not to worry, they'll send four Border Police officers to guard the place," Sfard said. He also sent a letter to the Samaria District Police on the matter, but when he called the office he was told the entire command staff was on a field trip to Eilat.

At 1 P.M., about 100 Border Police officers arrived and evacuated the four young settlers who were there at the time. About two hours later, the leftists arrived, as per the arrangement with the IDF. One of them said the IDF did not permit Amar herself to approach.

"When we arrived there were six or seven Border Police officers and a few settlers," one of the Israelis said. "The settlers started to hit and punch us. At first the Border Police pushed them away but then they left. About 100 settlers climbed up to the site and attacked us. When I approached one of the Border Police he said, 'Do I look like your bodyguard?'"

Sfard sent a second letter, this time to Judea-Samaria District Police Chief Shlomo Ka'atabi, asking him to secure the site "before the violence gets out of control." But only a few Border Police officers remained at the outpost, and they stayed in their vehicle.

"I realized that if the activists stayed their lives would be in danger, so I ordered them to leave," Sfard said. The activists left at about 4 P.M.

Yitzhaki confirmed that many settlers who were "furious" about the evacuation went up to the site, but she says it was the police officers who used violence against the settlers. She added that the settlers reoccupied the building after the IDF repaired damage caused during the evacuation.

"They used us to inflate the number of outpost evacuations," Sfard said. "The state says it has evacuated 11 outposts, but 10 of those evacuations were repeated evacuations of Shvut Ami."