Israelis Evict Palestinians From a Site for Housing

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JERUSALEM -- Israeli security forces evicted scores of Palestinian activists before dawn on Sunday from a tent encampment they had set up set up two days earlier in a strategic piece of Israeli-occupied West Bank territory known as E1, east of Jerusalem, where Israel says it plans to build settler homes.

A police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said that police officers had removed the activists one by one, without any use of force, aside from some pushing and shoving, and that the police operation was over within an hour. But a spokeswoman for the protesters, Abir Kopty, said that six Palestinians had sought hospital treatment for injuries, some caused by punches to the face.

The encampment, which the protesters called the village of Bab al-Shams (Arabic for "Gate of the Sun"), represented a new kind of action by Palestinian grass-roots activists involved in what they describe as the nonviolent popular struggle against the Israeli occupation.

Employing a tactic more commonly used by Jewish settlers who establish wildcat outposts in the West Bank, the protesters had pitched their tents on Friday on what they said was privately owned land, and with the permission of the Palestinian landowners. They were immediately served eviction notices by the Israeli military authorities, but their lawyers had obtained a temporary injunction against their removal from the High Court of Justice until the state detailed the grounds for such a move.

But on Saturday evening, with the end of the Sabbath, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement saying he had ordered security forces to evacuate "forthwith" the Palestinians who had gathered in the area between Jerusalem and the large urban settlement of Maale Adumim.

The state responded to the High Court of Justice on Saturday night, arguing that the gathering would become a focus of protest that could lead to rioting, and asserting that most of the tents had been pitched on territory that Israel had declared state land. The court overturned the injunction, allowing the people to be removed from the site. Discussions about the fate of the tents were to continue on Sunday.

The Israeli authorities declared the area a closed military zone on Saturday evening and began building up security forces around the site.

The Palestinians claim E1, just east of Jerusalem, as part of a future state. The protest came six weeks after Israel announced that it was moving forward with plans for thousands of settlement homes in E1, stirring international outrage. Israel announced its intention as a countermeasure after the United Nations General Assembly voted in November to upgrade the Palestinians' status to that of a nonmember observer state.

Israel wants East Jerusalem, which it has annexed, and Maale Adumim, which lies beyond E1, to be contiguous and says that the future of the West Bank has to be settled in negotiations. In the meantime, critics say, Israel continues to establish facts on the ground -- a policy that the Palestinian protesters sought to emulate.

Ms. Kopty, the spokeswoman for the protesters, said about 100 Palestinians were removed from the site and taken to the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"The amount of support we got from Palestinians and across the world was heartwarming," she said, speaking by telephone from the hospital in Ramallah where she was accompanying those who had been injured. "We hope this action will inspire Palestinians to do more, to break through the apathy and to take the popular struggle to the next level."

And in a statement, leaders of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, a grass-roots group, said, "Even though we were evicted, our strength was apparent since the police needed hundreds and hundreds of special unit police officers" to remove the protesters.

Israeli plans to build in E1 have been vehemently opposed by many countries, including the United States, which say that construction there would partially separate the northern and southern West Bank, harming the prospects of a viable contiguous Palestinian state in that territory.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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