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A little over a year after hundreds of people were injured in the violent clashes of the Amona outpost evacuation, the IDF and Israel Police met a familiar adversary on Monday - Israel's right wing.
The scars from Amona have yet to completely heal. Both sides have, however, learned their lessons from that last evacuation, which left close to 300 right-wing activists and policemen injured in some of the most violent confrontations between settlers and security forces in Israel's history.
Unlike Amona, where the mostly young, hard-core activists barricaded themselves in homes and on rooftops, Homesh on Monday was full of families. Mothers carried little babies and fathers pushed strollers up the windy hill to the site of the former settlement. The march's organizers were aware that the image of radical "hilltop youth" throwing rocks at policemen did not serve their cause. Happy families on a pre-Pessah hike were far more appealing to the general public.
The security forces have also learned their lesson. On Monday, there weren't any policemen on horses, or gray-uniformed border policemen armed with long black batons. Activists' only encounter with security forces on the way to Homesh was with the IDF soldiers securing the roads. In some cases, the troops even helped the families making their way along the six-kilometer march to the evacuated northern Samarian settlement.
While Defense Minister Amir Peretz talked tough on Monday - calling the activists "extremists" and vowing to evacuate them by force - the IDF took a different approach. Peretz, senior officials said, wanted the military to stop the marchers even before they reached the settlement. The IDF decided, however, that it would be easier to allow the marchers to reach the site and deal with them there.
The IDF's thinking was simple. Any attempt to stop the activists on their way to Homesh would fail, senior officers explained Monday, pointing to the dozens of routes the marchers could take to the settlement - through Palestinian villages, from the north, south, east and west. Instead, the IDF decided to secure the main road to the settlement and to allow the activists to march there unimpeded and even spend the night.
"It is better to let them go there and blow off steam than to chase them all day in cat-and-mouse games," explained a source in the IDF Central Command, who added that it would also be easier for security forces to evacuate the activists once they were all in one location.
Both Peretz's and the IDF's decision had their motives. Ahead of the Labor Party primaries in May, Peretz needs to look tough and is using the Homesh event as an opportunity to garner support among the party's left wing.
After he took office last May, Peretz periodically declared plans to evacuate illegal outposts in the West Bank. In the beginning, the settlers were even a bit frightened until they realized that while Peretz may be left-wing, his declarations were rarely followed by action. His predecessor Shaul Mofaz - known to be far more sympathetic to the settlement cause - was responsible for far more evacuations, including Amona and the August 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip and four northern Samaria settlements, including Homesh.
The IDF's thinking was different. OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh is despised by the right wing and suffers incessant harassment at their hands, and Commander of the Judea and Samaria Division Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan was in charge of the Amona evacuation. The last thing either officer wants is for the schism between the IDF and the settlers to grow. On Monday, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip issued an unprecedented press release praising the IDF and its "restraint" in allowing the march to take place.
Since Amona's evacuation in 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's West Bank withdrawal plan has come and gone, and Peretz has spoken profusely of outpost evacuations.
On the ground, however, nothing has changed. The settlers are still determined to rebuild the evacuated settlements and the IDF is there, awaiting instructions from the government.