masked settler in hebron.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Just hours before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened his new cabinet for its first meeting Sunday, policemen armed with batons and plastic shields managed to evict three settler families and additional right-wing activists from a home near Hebron's Avraham Avinu quarter in a relatively incident-free operation.
However, on Saturday, in a serious escalation in comparison to past evacuations, two Molotov cocktails as well as burning tires were thrown at police by the settlers barricaded inside the three-story Beit Shapira building.
Activists claim the police exaggerated the extent of the violence. One of the activists said that only glass bottles, not Molotov cocktails, were thrown.
"There was a massive barrage of rocks and metal objects hurled at the forces on Saturday," said Dept. Cmdr. Amir Cohen, Border Police commander in Hebron. "Several Molotov cocktails were thrown from the house and burning tires were rolled out toward police, but all were extinguished without causing injuries."
Seventeen policemen and soldiers and seven settlers were injured during clashes that broke out overnight Saturday in the run-up to the eviction after hundreds of right-wing activists had swarmed to the city over the weekend.
Close to 1,000 policemen and soldiers participated in the eviction that began at first light Sunday. Despite a short setback caused by the difficulty Home Front Command soldiers encountered in sawing open the building's steel front door, the operation ended in just under two-and-a-half hours.
Border policemen, dressed in special black protective suits, stormed Beit Shapira and met only token resistance - for the occasional cup of paint hurled by activists barricaded inside the building.
A few dozen right-wing activists outside the building tried to disrupt the evacuation, but were dragged away with a minimal use of force.
The three families and an additional 27 right-wing activists were evicted from the building the families had been living in for the last month.
While the settlers warned of a rerun of the violence during the demolition of nine buildings in the illegal outpost in Amona in February, during which more than 100 people were injured, the police kept their calm, as did the settlers, who barely resisted the actual eviction.
Mothers sat on cots in the sparsely furnished rooms, holding their children as they waited for the security forces.
After climbing the narrow, dark, stone stairwell, security forces knocked on each of the three apartment doors and then pushed them open. Many of the family members calmly walked out, while some of the children held pillows.
Merav Melamed greeted the soldiers with a speech about the importance of Hebron. She reminded them that Jewish history in the city went back to the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Throughout the centuries there have been many attempts to chase Jews away from the city, including the 1929 riots in which Arabs killed 67 Jews.
It's only recently "that Jews have been trying to expel Jews from Hebron," Melamed said.
"What will you tell your children?" she asked the soldiers, who stood quietly listening to her.
Judea and Samaria police chief Cmdr. Yisrael Yitzhak said leaders of Hebron's Jewish community entered the home and assisted security forces in preventing the violence from escalating beyond control.
Despite the leaders' presence, however, several youths threw rocks at the police from the roof of the house and about 10 girls threw paint, bottles and eggs from one of the rooms, injuring one policemen, who was hit in the eye by a can of paint.
But following the evacuation, Yitzhak said that the future relationship between the settlers and security forces depended solely on the Jewish residents of Hebron.
"It depends on them whether things stay calm or not," he said. "I hope they can understand that we came here to enforce the law."
Orit Struck, a spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, called the evacuation "anti-Semitic." The fact that the security forces forced Jews to leave a building was terrible, she said, but nonetheless commended them for following the law during the evacuation.
She maintained that the families had a legal right to be in the building, which the the community rented from Tal Investments and Construction Ltd., which in turn had rented the property from its Palestinian owner, Hani el-Batash.
But the previous owner, Kamer el-Nazer, denies selling the building to Batash. Police claim a number of documents relating to the sale are forged and the matter is now in court.
On Thursday the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by Hebron settlers for a temporary injunction to halt the eviction until the court rules on the authenticity of the sale documents.