Blocking Mideast Peace
Settlers torch Palestinian fields to disrupt Yitzhar outpost removal
by Amos Harel, Nadav Shragai and Moshe Reinfeld
Originally published 19 June 2003
in Haaretz


Violent clashes erupted Thursday between settlers and security forces as evacuation began of the illegal outpost of Mitzpeh Yitzhar, adjacent to the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus.

Settlers ignited Palestinian-owned wheat fields and olive groves in the area in an attempt to disrupt the operation, which was the first to remove an inhabited outpost. Ten uninhabited outposts were removed last week.

The hundreds of paratroopers and police who managed to make their way to the hilltop were armed only with the knives they carried to remove the settlers' tents.

Hundreds of settlers turned back soldiers attempting to take down the main tent located in the center of the outpost, and hundreds more settlers were reported to be making their way to the site to join the resistence. Security forces resumed their efforts at around 3 P.M. to remove the outpost after halting it for a few hours in the afternoon.

Four police officers and three settlers suffered extremely light injuries. Yesha Council leaders, and Knesset members Uri Ariel and Arye Eldad were currently at the outpost.

The army placed a closure on all settlements near the Mitzpeh Yitzhar outpost and erected roadblocks on area roads to prevent additional settlers from joining the fray.

But settlers pushed aside many roadblocks in order to reach the outpost, and set ignited fields. Military vehicles encountered difficulties arriving at Mitzpeh Yitzhar, due to youths who placed obstacles as well as their own bodies on roads and paths leading to the outpost.

Settlers said that some of them had been arrested.

Dozens of additional settlers from nearby settlements arrived at the outpost during the initial stages of the evacuation in order to join the efforts to deter the security forces.

Yosi Peli, a settler from the nearby Yitzhar settlement, said that despite the large contingent of troops, the protesters remained committed to retaining the outpost.

"This is our land, our home," he said. "Tomorrow we will be here again on this hill or on other hills."

According to Peli there had been minor confrontations at the outpost which have left two settlers injured.

Peli showed The Associated Press a list of rules of engagement provided by the settlers council. Demonstrators were advised to avoid violence and to use passive resistance.

But, Peli said, "When someone is trying to take you from your home it's difficult to know what will be."

High Court prevents demolition of one structur e The evacuation was proceeding despite a temporary injunction issued by the High Court staying the demolition of one structure at the Yitzhar outpost - the home of Yosef Makamal, who had petitioned the Court. Hundreds of soldiers and police had gathered at the outpost earlier in the day, but left the outpost in response to the injunction.

The state on Thursday provided the Court with its response to the petition, arguing that the matter was discussed in a previous appeal that was rejected earlier in the week. State attorneys also claimed that if the structure is not demolished, hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of settlers are likely to come to the site, which would require the army to post a large number of forces in the area. The Court is expected to discuss hold a hearing on the matter Thursday afternoon.

IDF legal experts examined the law and found that even if the army is not permitted to demolish the building, it will be able to lawfully evict its occupants. The court has already turned down petitions against the removal of tents and tin shacks on the scene. Due to the court ruling, however, the army decided not to go ahead with the eviction so as to avoid an operation that might take days until the court issues its final ruling regarding the lone concrete block building whose owner claims the army has no right to destroy.

The army fears that opposition to the eviction will be fierce because Yitzhar is considered a particularly radical settlement, populated by many of the so-called Hilltop Youth who have clashed in the past with the army in evictions of inhabited outposts.

The dismantling of the settlement is being overseen by Paratroop Brigade Commander Col. Aviv Kochavi, who has been given the authority to decide to postpone the move, if he decides there is a danger of major clashes between settlers and troops.

Hundreds of soldiers and police have been assigned to the mission. The army says it has not had any reports of soldiers refusing to take part, but commanders on the scene will be able to relieve soldiers who have emotional difficulty carrying out orders to dismantle the outpost, from having to carry out the task of physically removing the protesters.

Kochavi had ordered all the soldiers to leave their weapons behind during the operation to avoid a situation in which a weapon was snatched or used if tempers flared.

One reason why the showdown at Mitzpeh Yitzhar is expected to be particularly explosive, is because of the recent meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and settler leaders who came out of the session charging Sharon with having betrayed the settlement cause because of his acceptance of the road map and his commitment to remove illegal settlements.

Military sources said the settlers feel "frustrated and deceived," and that could result in clashes when the army moves to evict them. The Yesha council issued a call against the use of violence, and was trying to get rabbis in the area to moderate resistance. But the rabbis reported they were having difficulty cooling tempers.

The army has meanwhile prepared a list of another 19 outposts, including five inhabited positions, that are slated for eviction.

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