‘We are continuing the battle’

Settler leaders hint they may use force when the government goes through with decision to evacuate Ulpana homes.

Ulpana protest tent at rally 370 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Ulpana protest tent at rally 370
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Settlers on Wednesday afternoon vowed to defend their homes. They spoke after parliamentarians dashed their hopes that a legislative solution could save four West Bank outposts from destruction this year.

“We are continuing the battle.It is just moral and logical,” said Rabbi Yair Frank of Amona, one of the four outposts.Frank and Yehuda Yifrach, also from Amona near the Ofra settlement, began a hunger strike on May 29 and initiated the final grassroots protest in advance of Wednesday’s Knesset vote on the “outpost bill,” by pitching a tent near the Supreme Court.On Wednesday afternoon, having lost the legislative battle, they and 48 other people ended their hunger strike.Activists took down the tent, and pledged to turn from politics to the street to carry their struggle forward.Although they swore to continue submitting legislation, that avenue now appears unlikely to succeed.A tent city has already been set up in the Beit El settlement, to defend the Ulpana outpost on its outskirts when security personnel come to destroy it.The High Court of Justice has ordered the state to demolish Ulpana’s five apartment buildings by July 1.Ulpana residents, settler leaders, activists and politicians have rejected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan to relocate the buildings, arguing that their demolition would set a dangerous precedent that could effect some 9,000 West Bank Jewish homes.“Enough with the destruction, we want our homes,” said Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.On Tuesday night, MK Arieh Eldad (National Union) threatened that the fight to save the Ulpana buildings would be worse than the clashes that took place when the state demolished nine homes in the Amona outpost in 2006. Then, more than 300 people were injured, including around 80 security personnel.On Wednesday afternoon, Dayan, who has often rejected violence as a strategy, hinted at the possibility that it would break out at Ulpana.“I have been asked countless times what will happen,” he said.“Just as a resident of Tel Aviv or Ra’anana would defend his home when people unjustly take it from him, so we will defend the Ulpana homes, no more and no less,” he said.He added that he believed the outpost’s supporters were on their way to victory. “We have been in worse situations,” Dayan said.He and other activists in the protest tent listened to the Knesset vote count on the outpost bill. They heard the names called of ministers who had promised their support, but then voted against the bill or were absent from the plenum.Even though it had been fairly clear to them by the start of the debate that they would likely lose, they held a small rally to urge cabinet members not to cave in to the prime minister, who had threatened to fire those ministers who voted for the legislation.One activist said she had entered the Knesset to find the ministers, but that no one would speak with her.“This is the hour in which your resolve is being tested,” Yifrach shouted as he stood in the hot sun at a rally.Speakers paused to allow activists to listen to the debate, by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin of the legislation, which would retroactively legalize unauthorized West Bank Jewish construction on private Palestinian property, if it was carried out in good faith and no challenged had been mounted to it within four years.At the street corners near the protest tent, teens held signs and chanted, “The nation wants to legislate.”“After nine days [without food] it is not easy and not simple,” said Yifrach, as he looked out at hundreds of supporters.“But we see the great crowd that has come here and the great energy they bring,” he said.Of the ministers in the Knesset, Yifrach asked, “Where are you, why did we vote for you? Where are your Zionist principles?” He referenced the demolition of the nine Amona homes as well as the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.“Is this why the Likud entered the government, so they could redo Amona and Gush Katif?” he asked.For those who voted against the bill, “there will be a day of reckoning, a day of judgment,” Yifrach said.He reminded them that their public would remember this moment during the next election.“There are primaries and voting booths,” he said.“We know today who is faithful to Israel and who is not. We know today who is part of the National Zionist camp and who is not, who supports the settlements and who does not.”He said that Likud cabinet members had called the activists to explain that the relocation plan for the Ulpana homes would not harm the settlement movement.But Yifrach said that he and those at the rally rejected that assertion.Dayan added that the real question in front of ministers was this: “Will they chose the Zionist path, or the post-Zionist path of destruction.”Members of the crowd yelled out about Netanyahu, “He is a liar.”Rally organizers played and replayed the anti-Likud jingle that has become very popular in the past 24 hours.