Police, Settlers Clash as Illegal West Bank Structures Demolished

Court rejects appeal to prevent demolition in Beit El Netanyahu approves new housing units Habayit Hayehudi MK: It is the High Court that should be demolished.

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A man snaps a picture of himself against the demolition of the structures in Beit El, July 29, 2015.
A man snaps a picture of himself against the demolition of the structures in Beit El, July 29, 2015.Credit: Emil Salman

Clashes erupted Wednesday in the West Bank settlement of Beit El after as security forces began demolishing two illegal buildings, and following a High Court of Justice rejection of an appeal seeking to prevent their demolition.

Following pressure from Likud ministers and Habayit Hayehudi politicians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced once more the immediate construction approval for 300 housing units in Beit El.

The units' construction was already approved following the evacuation of the Beit El buildings known as Ulpana Hill, but was never carried out. In addition, Netanyahu approved moving forward with the planning of 500 new housing units in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Some 200 people gathered at the site, hurling rocks at officers and setting fire to tires. Police are trying to disperse the crowd with water cannons.

Politicians on the right responded fiercely to the High Court ruling, with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked vowing that the homes will be rebuilt and Habayit Hayehudi's Moti Yogev calling for the demolition of the High Court.

Overnight, Israel Police and the IDF deployed special units and heavy machinery at a base in Beit El ahead of the demolition.

On Tuesday, a violent clashes erupted between Israeli police and hundreds of young settlers trying to stop the army from demolishing the buildings.

At the same time, the state filed its response to the appeal filed by the buildings' contractor. The state agreed with the appeal, writing that there was a basic change in the planning situation which justified the reversal of the court's ruling which required the buildings' demolition.

Bennett: An unfortunate ruling

The Beit El Regional Council said in response to Wednesday's ruling that it is "amazed" at the High Court's insensitivity. The court has ignored the permits issued for the structures, the council said in a statement, but added that it will abide by the ruling. The council called on the prime minister "to swiftly approve the construction of the 300 housing units he has promised."

Justice Minister Shaked said the ruling must be accepted, but added that the Beit El homes will be demolished and then immediately rebuilt. "This is the Jewish way – you don't lose hope and you keep building, building, building."

Commenting on the clashes, Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan said "Those who throw stones at police officers and soldiers should be prosecuted."

Ya'alon commented on the harsh comments that came from minister and MKs, saying: "I expect that ministers and elected officials unequivocally back the upholding of the rule of law, and not encourage the breaking of the law and clashing with security forces."

Education Minister and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett also called on Netanyahu to build 300 housing units in the West Bank "as he committed to doing." "This is an unfortunate ruling by the High Court," he said, adding that the court "decided to ignore the state's position as filed [on Tuesday] per the demand of Habayit Hayehudi. The ruling will bring about a wave of construction across the settlements."

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel said he had also asked Netanyahu to move forward with the construction of the settlement homes, adding that he "expects a positive answer within an hour."

Habayit Hayehudi MK Moti Yogev told the Arutz Sheva website that it is the High Court that should be demolished: "A D-9 arm [a heavy bulldozer] should be raised at High Court," he said, "we will rein in the judicial rule." The Zionist Union said it intends to file a complaint over incitement to the Knesset legal counsel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the calls against the High Court saying "Israel is a law-abiding democracy, which adheres to court rulings. So it was in the past and so it will be in the future."

The Yesh Din group, which represents the Palestinian owner of the lands on which the structures were built, welcomed the ruling and praised the court for not succumbing to "political pressures."

Last year, the Supreme Court ordered the two buildings demolished by the end of July, following a petition by the Palestinian landowners and the Yesh Din group. But the Civil Administration, acting on the defense minister's orders, has launched an accelerated process of promoting a building plan and giving a retroactive construction permit last month, after which the contractor would be able to appeal the Supreme Court to rescind the demolition orders.

Tuesday's clashes began when the youths tried to stop a police vehicle from bringing in a security fence to be set up around the buildings. Police sought to drive off the settlers, who were being led at the time by Likud MK Oren Hazan, and a violent clash ensued. Two youths were arrested.

Netanyahu: No reason to demolish

"We are actively trying to strengthen the settlements, in accordance with the law," Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Tuesday. "Our stance on the houses in Beit El is very clear: We oppose the demolition and are taking legal action to prevent this move. I want the government's stance – that the planning process on the site has been finished and there is therefore no reason to demolish the homes – be brought to the High Court for attention." Netanyahu discussed the matter with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein Tuesday.

Just prior to Netanyahu's announcement, Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett demanded that Netanyahu clarify that the houses were not to be demolished.

"Ten years since the Disengagement, someone seems to have forgotten that the national camp once had political and public force," Bennett told Netanyahu in a telephone conversation. "The defense minister has been dragged into the extremism and the agitation, instead of trying to calm the tension."

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