Settlers began rebuilding two illegal West Bank outposts Tuesday, a day after 400 members of Israel's security forces evacuated them.
Groups of young people could be seen working on reconstructing the buildings at the outposts of Maoz Esther and Habaladim that had been demolished Monday.
Residents of the outposts have also launched a fundraising campaign in support of the rebuilding effort that has so far raised more than 250,000 shekels ($78,000). Among those recruited for the campaign were former lawmaker Rabbi Haim Druckman and lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism party, who is featured in a video urging Israel's public to donate.
The security forces that cleared the outposts included soldiers, Border Police and police officers, and members of the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank. They demolished about 20 structures at the two locations.
The size of the security forces that took part in the evacuation was unusually large, security officials said, but one source added that “major enforcement once in two years creates a lot of noise but isn’t effective.” Another source called it “ridiculous” to devote such major resources to evacuating outposts that are reestablished within a day in any event.
The two outposts in the central West Bank are subject to what is known as a demarcation order, meaning that construction at the sites is prohibited, as is the presence of construction equipment and that of individuals. But the army and the police have not been enforcing the order on an ongoing basis. Settlers have returned to the outposts to build, even though security forces have evacuated the sites in the past.
The Israel Defense Forces refused to respond to Haaretz when asked what steps were being taken to prevent the outposts from being rebuilt. But one security official told Haaretz, “In the end, we need to pick our battles. There aren’t unlimited numbers of forces and a Border Police force can’t sit on every hill.”
Maoz Esther was home to Ahuvia Sandak, the teen who was killed in December 2020 when the car in which he was riding overturned in a police chase. He and the other passengers had been suspected of throwing stones at Palestinian cars. His death sparked longstanding protests. The outpost, which had been due to be evacuated two days after the incident, was only evacuated this week.
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According to the Border Police, two police officers were injured in the evacuation and vehicles were also damaged by stones thrown at them. A policeman was sprayed with pepper spray, and the tires of an army vehicle were punctured.
Six settlers were arrested at the scene but released the same day. The settlers claimed that a dog belonging to one of the families living at the outpost was killed in the demolition of the buildings there. The Border Police said in response that there was a dead dog at the scene prior to the demolition.
The morning after the evacuation, cars were seen coming and going at the site of the two outposts, which are near the settlement of Kokhav Hashahar. This week, Amishav Melet, a resident of the Geulat Tzion outpost and a longtime activist, said that he and his friends had just finished rebuilding three buildings at Maoz Esther.
“I’ve just finished 48 hours straight of work and there are already three bigger and fancier buildings there than what there was before,” he said, adding that supporters of the outpost continue to come to the site.
“There’s a traffic jam at Maoz Esther,” he quipped. “There are trays of food, support and encouragement and a major awakening.” He estimated the cost of the damage caused to the property in the evacuation of the outposts at 500,000 shekels.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, a left-wing activist who has accompanied Palestinian farmers in the area said the two outposts have deprived Palestinian of access to their grazing land and to fields that they cultivated in the past.
Israel's varying approach to West Bank outposts
Although the term "outpost" refers to West Bank settlements established without authorization, there are actually several types of outposts and the authorities’ attitude toward them also varies.
There are outposts where the homes are subject to demolition orders but where no action is being taken to enforce the orders. In many instances, the Israeli government has even announced plans to authorize them.
In recent years, unauthorized farms have also increasingly been established in the West Bank, generally with the support of the Amana settlement movement, which has ties to government institutions. But the hilltops that Avishav Melet and his friends are associated with are of a kind that are not subject to the authority of settlement movement leadership and are in many instances built on privately owned Palestinian land – sometimes even in Area B, where the Palestinian Authority has civilian authority.
Melet and others who are living on the hilltops claim that since the current Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was established in June of last year, enforcement against the outposts has increased. Geulat Tzion, where Melet lives, was evacuated three months ago after a three-year period without any demolition action, he noted.
The outpost was then rebuilt and demolished two weeks later in an unending cycle. Now there are again structures at the site. Most of the enforcement, he said, is against new construction. An example of that is a site called Nofei Yehuda, which was established in less than a day after a Palestinian man killed in December Yehuda Dimentman in the vicinity of the Homesh outpost.
Hilltop outposts near the settlements of Bat Ayin, Yitzhar and Ofra are also subject to more frequent eviction actions in the past, sources noted. They linked it to the situation at the Evyatar outpost.
At Evyatar, the government came to a compromise with the residents in which it agreed not to demolish buildings there until the ownership status of the site is clarified. That, the sources said, prompted the security forces to step up their response to illegal Jewish construction in the West Bank.
In recent years, one outpost in particular has stood out as a target of security forces. The site known as Kumi Ori, near Yitzhar, is in Area B, an area designated under the civil control of the Palestinian Authority.
An Israeli Border Police force was regularly stationed at the entrance to the hilltop to ensure that no new buildings were built there, beyond the few where several young families have been allowed to live. But the Border Police force was withdrawn in October following a campaign by settlers who claimed that the police presence constituted a siege of the site.