Israel Police Conducts Large-scale Drill Ahead of West Bank Evacuation

Five apartment buildings in the Ulpana Hill neighborhood of the Beit El settlement are to be demolished for being built on privately owned Palestinian land.

Israel Police began an extensive drill on Monday in preparation of the expected evacuation of the Ulpana Hill neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.
More than a thousand police officers took part in the Jordan Valley drill, joined by special forces, mounted units and riot control forces.

Five apartment buildings in the neighborhood are slated by the Supreme Court for demolition because they were built on privately owned Palestinian land. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein last week approved a plan to move residents of the five buildings to a nearby tract of land that was appropriated by the state in 1970 for military use.

Police officers said that units were training for various scenarios that may develop during the evacuation. Monday's drill is the biggest since the disengagement from Gaza and the preparations for a Palestinian bid for UN membership last September.

After the exercise, Israel Police hopes to be fully prepared to execute government orders and evacuate the site quickly with a minimum number of incidents. Last week, a skirmish broke out in the Ulpana neighborhood between Defense Ministry contractors a several young Jewish men. Meanwhile, Beit El's chief rabbi, Zalman Melamed, released a letter calling the public, Knesset members and all who are "loyal" to the land of Israel to join in the struggle against the evacuation.

A week ago, a Defense Ministry document stated that an IDF base and a nearby Border Police base would have to be turned over to the settlement of Beit El in order to fulfill Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's promise to build 300 new apartments there. The document has been submitted to various ministers and senior government officials recently, but no official decision on evacuating the bases has yet been made.

The settlers' original petition on the matter was submitted to the district court in September 2011 - 11 years after the land in Ulpana was apparently purchased, four months after the state promised to demolish the houses and three days before a High Court hearing on the case. The demolition orders had been delivered in response to a 2008 petition submitted by Palestinians who claimed ownership to the land where the neighborhood now stands.

The Civil Administration had in the past rejected the settlers' claims that they had indeed purchased the grounds, and ruled that the man who sold the land was not actually the legal owner. A police investigation on the matter three years ago found that the neighborhood was built on land whose purchase was never finalized.
Regardless of what is decided on the matter, a ruling on who owns the land will not bring an end to the Ulpana Hill affair. The homes are slated for demolition because they were constructed without a building permit, outside of Beit El's legal jurisdiction, in a place without recognized jurisdiction– and therefore could not have been awarded a building permit in the first place.

Last Tuesday, residents of the Ulpana Hill neighborhood submitted a renewed petition to the Jerusalem District Court requesting to register the land where their homes stand under their names, in a last-ditch effort to save the houses from being demolished. A petition on the matter had been submitted to the court in September 2011. The settlers' new request asks the court carry out the proceedings within six months.

Men in Ulpana, on the edge of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beit El.
Reuters / Nir Elias
Olivier Fitoussi