Jewish families begin quiet evacuation of West Bank homes
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JERUSALEM -- Israeli authorities on Tuesday began evacuating an outpost in the West Bank after the country's Supreme Court recently held the government to its promise to remove five houses from the Ulpana hill outpost, built on privately owned Palestinian lands in violation of Israeli law.
After holding morning prayers together, residents took their children to school and began packing quietly, helped by staff from the Defense Ministry. The settlers were to be moved to a temporary site on a military base two miles away, where mobile homes provided by the government have been set up. Around half of the 33 families to be relocated were moving Tuesday, and the eviction from the disputed buildings is expected to be completed by week's end.
The empty homes will be sealed off, and the government may ask the Supreme Court for a three-month extension to allow for their physical relocation.
Anxious to avoid scenes of violence and clashes between settlers and security personnel that might harm both settlers and the government, the two sides reached an agreement: The government promised no police or army presence, and the settlers promised a peaceful move with no children on the scene. Young right-wing activists who set up camp on the site in recent weeks with intentions of clashing with authorities were sent away.
"We are not leaving willingly. We are forced out of our homes against our will, but there will be no violence," Racheli Kramer, a resident of six years, told Israeli media. "We are hurt, angry and want to cry out against the terrible injustice done to us," she said, adding that people may expect violence, but the residents "won't play this game."
Live broadcasts of the move from Israeli news sites showed residents in black T-shirts bearing the slogan "Givat Ulpana, we shall return." A few families, including that of Yoel Fattal, intended to protest nonviolently. "I won't leave on my own two feet. Let them carry me out," he told media.
Although no violence was expected on the part of Israeli security authorities or residents, some remain concerned about reprisals from settlement sympathizers. In a letter Monday to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a group of human rights organizations called upon Israel security services to take extra precautions and be adequately prepared to protect Palestinians from possible so-called "price-tag" operations by pro-settlement activists seeking to extract a price for the move.
After failing to find a legal way to prevent the evacuation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the government would uphold the law and implement the Supreme Court ruling that held the government to its pledge to remove the houses by the end of the month. He also pledged to build 300 new apartments in the nearby settlement of Beit El, as well as more elsewhere in the West Bank, in compensation and to strengthen the settlement movement.
Moshe Rosenboim, head of the local council of the Beit El settlement, said that despite the residents' sorrow, the promise of considerable construction provides some optimism.
First Published June 27, 2012 12:00 am