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The Outposts Were Evacuated, but Israeli Settlers Vow to Return Soon

The Israeli army and police are pleased with their success in blocking the operation organized by the Nachala movement to erect six outposts. But their joy may be premature

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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Israeli settlers ascending a West Bank hilltop to establish an outpost near Kiryat Arba on Wednesday.
Israeli settlers ascending a West Bank hilltop to establish an outpost near Kiryat Arba on Wednesday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

One outpost of the six erected by settlers and right-wing activists on Wednesday night was still in place on Thursday morning, when Border Police forces began to remove the incipient structures and the activists from the site, known as Hill 26, near Kiryat Arba. This was the coda of an operation in which some 600 Border Police, 200 regular police and 10 army battalions acted to thwart a plan by the Nachala movement to establish a clutch of illegal outposts in the West Bank.

Throughout the day security forces were deployed at checkpoints and took down tents – while at the same time guarding the settlers against possible Palestinian attacks. Officials are prepared for the possibility that the activists will keep returning to the sites until the start of the Sabbath.

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The security establishment expressed satisfaction with what they said was a successful counter-operation. However, their sigh of relief may be premature.

Daniella Weiss, one of the founders of Nachala, has already vowed to continue the drive. “We’ll be back, of course,” she told Haaretz. “We’ll try to come back in a day or two. If it’s this Shabbat, I can’t say. We’re taking it one step at a time.”

The movement’s WhatsApp group announced “preparations for Sabbath” on a hill near Kiryat Arba, and around noon on Thursday the activists announced that they had reoccupied a hill from which they had been evacuated, near the settlement of Psagot.

The security forces’ preparation was the result of a decision taken by political leaders, led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, not to allow the establishment of new outposts. They learned their lesson after Evyatar was established very rapidly last year, with houses built and roads paved before the army arrived on the scene. The settlers eventually agreed to evacuate the site, but the buildings remain standing, guarded by Border Police personnel against reoccupation.

Ahead of this week’s outposts operation, the security forces confiscated lumber, crowbars and hammers from depots where Nachala had collected them (according to Weiss, the hardware was intended for erecting large tents). A security source told Haaretz that officials had warned bus drivers planning to transport the activists to the outpost sites. Nachala report that several drivers were given fines. In addition, the army issued dozens of orders barring entry by vehicle to non-residents in designated areas and declared others to be closed military zones.

Close to 10 P.M. on Wednesday night, the police notified the activists that they must clear the areas where they had set up tents. Light scuffling broke out at the encampment near Barkan, during which settlers say that three people were wounded lightly.

Nachala was criticized by more radical hilltop youth activists for not opposing the evacuations. “The possibility remains of really creating settlements in these places,” the far-right activist Elisha Yered tweeted. Others recalled the protests during the evacuation of Kfar Maimon during the 2005 Gaza disengagement, which the Yesha Council opposed because it didn’t want clashes with the security forces.

Weiss rejected the criticism from the far-right. “Today, thank God, I live in a lovely home in Kedumim, but we started in a scout’s tent and were thrown out of that tent eight times,” she said. “Today, there are a thousand people in Kedumim, so who’s going to teach me how to build settlements?”

On the other hand, some rabbis spoke publicly against the Nachala operation for the opposite reasons. Channel 7 reported that Rabbi Yosef Kelner of the military preparatory academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli called the outpost drive “the madness of children. Children are about to play settlement games because they suffer from excess energy.”

New outposts are erected fairly often. According to Peace Now, six have been established in the past year, bringing the total to 147. Some of them have been around so long that they look like any other settlement. Others are wooden shacks occupied by hilltop youths while others are farms set up without authorizations.

Peace Now said it feared that the Nachala activists would somehow manage to remain over the weekend at the sites they occupied. “The outposts criminals’ plan is well known – to cling to the land on Friday and conduct an extortion campaign to keep from being evacuated before the Sabbath. Each location will become a symbol like Evyatar and Homesh, and that cannot be allowed to happen.”

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