Settlements: Is Ulpana gearing up to be Amona II?

With settler leaders linking fate of Jews living in W. Bank to fate of 5 buildings in outpost, severe clashes may be inevitable.

Amona II? (photo credit: REUTERS)
Amona II?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘Destroy Ulpana, and we will all long for Amona,” MK Arieh Eldad (National Union) said on Tuesday night, at a small rally in support of outpost legislation.
“Then you will see how the public acts against a decree that it cannot tolerate,” he said.
His words were both dramatic and threatening.
They brought back visions of right-wing activists defending nine homes on the edge of the Amona outpost in 2006, as border police on horses and others in riot gear with batons dragged them away.
The violence that occurred on that winter day still reverberates in an Israeli psyche eternally fearful that the nation’s deep division over the West Bank and the settlements will end in bloodshed.
But it is hardly the first time that Eldad or others on the Right have warned about Amona-like violence, if settler homes are evacuated or destroyed. The phrase “Amona II” has been recycled so many times that it has become almost devoid of meaning.
In reality, few battles by settlers to preserve Jewish property have sparked that level of violence.
That is because the intense resistance in Amona was not just born out of an ideology that led settlers to believe they were fighting a life and death battle for the Land of Israel. It was also about timing, topography and strategy.
At the time Amir Peretz was the defense minister.
Violence broke out in Amona, in part in reaction to the ease with which Gaza residents were pulled from their homes the summer before. They had fought a civil disobedience battle for Gaza under the slogan, “Love will win out.” The lesson learned by young adults as bulldozers flattened Gaza settler homes was that “love,” as nice as it sounds, might not have been the best strategy.
For days before the demolition of the Amona homes on February 1, 2006, activists streamed to the isolated hilltop outside the Ofra settlement in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.
Even before the IDF arrived, some 1,500 people were waiting to defend the outpost of 35 families.
They had time to rig the nine endangered homes with boards, barbed wire and tires.
Activist stood firm against some 6,000 border police and soldiers. In the clashes that ensued, 86 security personnel and 85 activists were injured.
Activists have come to believe that it was the specter of such violence that has prevented any further significant demolition of outpost homes, although certainly small groups of homes as well as temporary construction have been destroyed since then.
Still, since becoming defense minister in March 2007, Ehud Barak has managed to implement a number of high-profile settler evacuations without the same kind of clashes.
In December 2008, he evacuated a four-story building in Hebron, known as Beit Hashalom, after hundreds of activists had camped out there intending to defend it, in some cases with violence. They had set up a large slingshot on the roof, with which to fling burning tires.
“Those who evacuate Beit Hashalom will long for Amona,” Eldad said at the time.
But activists never had a chance to use any homemade weapons.
Barak was able to surround the building on a quiet day. Activists, certain nothing would happen that afternoon, had temporarily left the camp. Settler leaders believed that they were in the midst of reaching a deal to avoid an evacuation.
When almost no one was in the building, a number of Border Police vehicles pulled up to the door and immediately surrounded the home, cutting off any change of stiff opposition.
Similarly, Barak quickly emptied the Hebron building Beit Hamachpelah this April. Residents believed there was no threat that particular day, and were away from the building, which like Beit Hashalom was a fair distance from any other Jewish holding in the city. The evacuation was over in less than an hour.
Last September, residents in the Migron outpost had less than an hour’s warning that the border police were on their way to demolish three homes. The small outpost of 50 families is located on an isolated hilltop.
Police were able to block off the outpost to activists, and quickly moved in on the homes.
But the topography and timing of Ulpana makes it less likely that Barak could evacuate it with ease and increases the chances of an Amona II.
In addition, since the Amona demolitions in 2006, extreme-right activists have employed a “price tag” strategy of vengeance acts against Palestinians, which adds an specter of violence not known six years ago.
As with the first Amona, there is now a countdown toward a demolition date. The High Court of Justice has ordered the state to destroy five apartment buildings there by July 1.
The area is heavily populated. Ulpana has 14 apartment buildings, in four tight rows.
It sits on the edge of Beit El, a settlement of close to 6,000 people that also houses a yeshiva. It would be difficult for Barak to make a move on Beit El without alerting people in the settlement and the yeshiva, many of whom would immediately come to the aid of the Ulpana homes. There is also plenty of space in the settlement to house additional activists who want to engage in the newest battle for Judea and Samaria.
Physical resistance has not, so far, been the first choice for activists who oppose the demolition of the Ulpana homes. They held a hunger strike, they lobbied politicians, they rallied and manned a protest tent.
Aside from Eldad’s words, they have not stated a clear intention to hold a violent battle. They have spoken of self defensive acts and added that they will not be the ones to instigate violence.
But when Knesset legislation designed to thwart the demolitions failed on Wednesday, they folded their protest tents and spoke of defending their homes from the streets.
For activists fed on faith and a deep belief that they are safeguarding the state by living on the hilltops of Judea and Samaria, it would be difficult not to chose to physically defend the Ulpana homes with their bodies. In recent months, both the courts and politicians have failed them, they feel.
Offers to relocate the homes have not appeased them or the Ulpana residents, because they believe that the ideology underlining the removal of the homes endangers some 9,000 other Jewish West Bank structures, which they fear, could lead to a second disengagement.
The last stand for Ulpana, which will be played out in the coming weeks, will also impact what happens with Migron, which the High Court has mandated must be demolished by August 1. Similarly, the state has promised to take down Givat Assaf outpost by July 1 and Amona, this time the entire outpost, by the end of the year.
With settler leaders linking the fate of Jews in the West Bank with the fate of five buildings severe clashes may be inevitable.
Even Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, came as close as he ever has to warning of impending violence, when he said that the Ulpana residents could be expected to defend their homes, no less than anyone in Tel Aviv or Ra’anana would, if faced with the prospect of losing them unjustly.