Both sides blame each other for crossing the line

The authorities and protesters blamed each other for the violence that occurred between the two sides during the evacuation and demolition of nine houses in Amona on Wednesday. Even before the police attempted to remove the protesters, most of whom appeared to be pre-army teenagers, the youths threw stones and rocks at the security forces from their positions behind fortifications they had erected on the road. They also attacked the police from an adjacent embankment and the rooftops of the houses. However, Eran Sternberg, the former spokesman of Gush Katif, blamed the government for issuing the order to tear down the houses in the first place. "To destroy somebody's house because he is Jewish is just about the most violent you can be," he said. Pointing to the ruins of the first house that was destroyed, he said, "This isn't violence?" One protester said the police used excessive violence and weren't concerned about whom they injured. "In the evacuation, it was like they wanted to kill us. They came in with batons and started beating us without looking at who they were hitting. I saw people who were hit on the head, the face, the hands and the stomach," he said. "I have been in a number of evacuations and this is the most violent I have ever seen," he added. Brig.-Gen. Meir Bokovza, who led the evacuation, said the clashes occurred because the protesters wanted them to. "We are talking about a very violent group of youths whose sole aim was to come and to use violence against the security forces," he said. "The police didn't use batons until they were hit by stones from a range of only a few meters," he added. Bokovza also said the violence could have been avoided had the protesters passively opposed the demolition of the houses. "If there was a decision they didn't agree with, they should have laid down on the road. We would have removed them one by one and would not have had to use so much force," he said. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said the force the police used was commensurate with the level of violence of the protesters. "Rocks, stones, bottles and liquids were thrown at the police…the police could not tolerate such actions and reacted accordingly," he said. Haim Falk, from the adjacent settlement of Ofra, said the protesters were wrong to throw stones, but blamed the police for provoking them. "Those who threw stones are in my eyes a big disgrace. I think that this is not the place, but I can understand because there is a lot of pain, as well as police barbarism and brutality...[but] there are young people who did things that unfortunately are not appropriate," he said. Both sides also blamed each other for the violence being much greater than it was during the disengagement from Gush Katif in August. "In Gaza, the police said we love you, don't worry, it doesn't matter what you do, we are with you," said Shlomi, who declined to give his family name. "We accepted this, but if somebody comes to beat you up, do you say, 'Continue to hit me?'" The 16-year-old from Beit Shemesh was on the roof of one of the houses during the evacuation on Wednesday. However, Bokovza said the violence was greater in Amona because the protesters ignored the settlement leadership. "The Yesha council and the rabbis are not able to control them. In Gush Katif, there were organizations that were able to hold sway over the public," he said.