Settlers cancel meeting with Gantz over outpost razing, planning freeze

Settlers accused Gantz of selectively enforcing the law in Area C of the West Bank, which is under IDF military and civilian control.

 Right-wing activists hang an Israeli flag on a building they built in a new settlement named Ma'ale Paula. (photo credit: EZRI TOBY)
Right-wing activists hang an Israeli flag on a building they built in a new settlement named Ma'ale Paula.
(photo credit: EZRI TOBY)

Settler leaders canceled what would have been their first meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz since the government came into office in June, to protest outpost razing and a de facto freeze on the advancement of plans for new Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria.

"Gantz is a coward" with the "heart of a mouse," charged Yesha Council head David Elhayani.

Some 14 settler leaders said they would boycott a scheduled meeting, but it was formally nixed after Border Police, with the help of the Civil Administration, demolished the two small outposts of Moaz Esther and Baladim on Monday morning.

Border police said some 400 police, border police, soldiers and civil administration workers took part in the enforcement action that targeted 20 structures.

In an attempt to prevent the demolitions, two activists allowed themselves to be encased in an iron and concrete contraption so that police could not remove them from the site. Police freed them and then arrested them along with four others who refused to leave the outpost sites.

The Border Police said that activists punctured the tires of a military vehicle at the Baladim outpost, and at Maoz Esther, activists pepper-sprayed one of the soldiers.

Some 100 right-wing activists and settlers clashed with security forces after the demolition, according to police, who charged that rioters threw stones at them, lightly injuring two.

Among the structures that were destroyed was a modular synagogue and home where Ahuvia Sandak, 16, was killed during a police chase in the West Bank in 2020. His father Avraham said that security forces had destroyed the synagogue built in his son's memory and the home that he had constructed.

Abraham later tweeted his frustration that there were 42,000 illegal Arab homes in Area C, but that Israeli security forces had decided instead to go after the home of a "righteous child" to express his love of the land.

Settlers have since begun to rebuild the outpost, which has been taken down multiple times.

Elhayani later said he couldn't believe Gantz had imagined that he would have demolished two outposts and then sat down with settler leaders to discuss ways to strengthen and secure the settlements.

Like Sandak he accused the defense minister of selectively enforcing the law in Area C of the West Bank, which is under IDF military and civilian control.

Gantz is a "hero" only when it comes to acting against Jews – but when it comes to Arabs, he suddenly lacks courage, Elhayani said. He spoke about discriminatory policies in the West Bank for Jews and Palestinians.

MK BEZALEL SMOTRICH (Religious Zionist Party) accused Gantz of helping the Palestinian Authority create a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria.

"This was not about the demolition of a few huts. We are deep into efforts to establish a Palestinian state led by this government," he said.

Right-wing politicians such as Smotrich and Gantz often focus on IDF demolitions of illegal Jewish homes in the West Bank, while ignoring its razing of illegal Palestinian structures. Palestinians and the Israeli Left have argued that illegal building is the result of IDF refusal in many cases to grant Palestinians building permits.

Elhayani accused Gantz of carrying out Biden administration policy, focusing on illegal Jewish building while turning a blind eye to rising security concerns in the West Bank from increased incidents of Palestinian violence.

When it comes to road security there is a dearth of security forces, but when it comes to removing an outpost, suddenly there are enough, he said.

In addition, Gantz has frozen the advancement of building plans for Judea and Samaria, Elhayani said. The Civil Administration's Higher Planning Council, which is scheduled to meet four times a year to push such projects forward, last held such a hearing in October and no date has been set for a new meeting.  

Even projects that were approved have been frozen, he said, stating that there were some 11 tenders for projects which had yet to be published.

Gantz is acting out his own policies in this regard and ignoring dictates from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has asked him to set a date for a Higher Planning Council meeting, Elhayani said.

Efrat Council head Oded Revivi had not planned on boycotting the meeting, a move which he said, "won't advance the settlements, not even by a stone." 

Gantz is the defense minister and there are security issues and other important matters to discuss with him, he said.

Revivi, who broke with the council over its opposition to the Trump administration's peace plan, said it was hypocritical for this council to complain about outpost demolition or a freeze in building plans.

He noted that Elhayani was a member of the right-wing New Hope Party, which is a member of the coalition. Most of the Yesha Council members, however, are connected to opposition parties.

Revivi said that the Yesha Council has declared that Gantz is an "enemy," acting as if is acting on his own behalf rather than as an emissary of a government that has received support from Yesha, a government in which Yesha has little standing and in which many of its ministers do not meet with the council.