Hundreds Flock to Amona to Barricade Themselves Ahead of Evacuation

Though most of the outpost's settlers said they won't resist violently, many of the youths who came to Amona won't commit to eschew violence.

Israeli youths push a water tank as they construct a temporary barrier in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank December 15, 2016.
RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Ever since Amona residents decided to reject a compromise proposed by the government, hundreds of people have been streaming to the West Bank outpost to resist its planned evacuation.

Some arrived even before residents voted to reject the compromise, and when they heard the outcome of the vote, they broke out dancing.

The High Court of Justice ordered that the outpost be demolished by next Sunday, Decmber 25. But the evacuation is widely expected to take place before then – most likely, early next week.

Amona settlers said they didn’t so much reject the compromise as vote to negotiate in hopes of a better offer. They want a firm commitment that for every house razed or removed from Amona, another house will be built elsewhere on the same hill.

But the outsiders who have since flocked to Amona, at the request of the outpost’s residents, are preparing to resist a forcible evacuation. Makeshift tents and huts have sprung up to house them. And so have piles of tires ready to be burned.

Moreover, unlike the residents, many outsiders refuse to promise to eschew violence. Some, for instance, talk of throwing stones at the construction vehicles brought in to raze the outpost.

Amona residents say they themselves won’t use violence. But they also insist that they can’t “take responsibility” for the outsiders’ behavior.

Moments after the residents voted, the outsiders were brought into the meeting hall for a briefing on how to resist the evacuation. They were warned that the security forces might handle them roughly and told to be sure to film it all.

Police issued written warnings on Thursday to several right-wing activists, most of them settlers, telling them to stay out of Amona during the evacuation. Honenu, a right-leaning legal aid organization, said it knows of at least 15 people who received such warnings. Police declined to answer Haaretz’s question as to how many warnings they issued.

Rumors that the evacuation was about to begin circulated roughly once an hour among the outsiders in Amona, prompting them to flood social media with messages urging their friends to come immediately. But some Amona residents said they were told explicitly that the evacuation won’t happen until early next week.

At a press conference on Thursday, the settlers insisted the compromise they were offered was unacceptable. “They had told us all the families would remain on this hill, but two days later, the document arrived, and what it said didn’t match what we were told orally,” said Avichai Boaron, who is coordinating the residents’ struggle. “We urge the leaders to find a solution; it’s still not too late.”

Despite the influx of outsiders, Amona residents are essentially alone at the front. Even the politicians most supportive of the outpost thought the proposed compromise was excellent and were disappointed when residents rejected it. They also warned that residents won’t get an better offer.

“They were offered the best deal possible under the existing circumstances, and I’m sorry they didn’t accept the offer,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday. “There will be no understanding for or tolerance of violence against Israel Defense Forces soldiers and the security forces. I’m hearing talk about violent resistance. I urge all Amona residents, and the visitors who have come, to simply remove that from the agenda.”

Even in the neighboring settlement of Ofra, which is preparing to absorb some families from Amona, people said that Amona residents had backed themselves into a corner. “Amona is currently standing alone against the state, with no public support,” wrote Ofra’s rabbi, Avraham Gisser, in an open letter.

But he also warned against a forcible evacuation. “Having rejected the wise request of leading rabbis, ministers and Knesset members alike, it’s clear that what we’re left with are the young people flocking to the hill from all sides,” he wrote. “And those youngsters on the hill also won’t listen to the advice of their elders on the scene.”

In contrast, Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba backed the residents’ decision wholeheartedly. “I heard with great satisfaction about your correct decision to remain in this place,” he said in a statement. “You’ve been given the privilege of being the pioneers who go before the camp, who withstand even difficult situations with courage and heroism.”

“The Land of Israel belongs solely to the people of Israel,” the statement added, so the claim that Amona was built on privately owned Palestinian land is ‘a fundamental lie.’”

Some of the outsiders in Amona are high-school students. “The Land of Israel comes way before school,” one explained.

During Wednesday night’s storm, some of the makeshift buildings housing the outsiders collapsed, leaving them without shelter from the wind and rain. Some of them – mere children – sought refuge in journalists’ cars.

The outsiders also include some right-wing activists well-known to the security forces, like Yosef Freisman, who had been barred from the West Bank until recently, when a military court unexpectedly overturned the IDF order keeping him out of the area. But even they don’t delude themselves that by next weekend Amona will still be standing; the only questions are when exactly the evacuation will happen and how violent it will be.