Magen Dan structure near Elkana taken down despite deal

Settlers say they had promised IDF to dismantle caravan themselves, but authorities wouldn't wait for movers.

settler demolished outpost 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
settler demolished outpost 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Magen Dan outpost settlers alleged that the IDF's forced removal of a caravan from their hilltop on Wednesday breached an agreement reached with the Elkana council to allow for its voluntary removal. The Civil Administration in turn charged that the Magen Dan settlers acted in bad faith by not removing the caravan by the promised date of August 8. The dispute comes at a time when the settlers' local and regional council heads' ability to broker a deal with the IDF for voluntary removals of structures at outposts is being tested. In the Binyamin Region, Regional Council Head Avi Ro'eh this month backed away from a promise he made to the administration to take down three illegal caravans at the Bnei Adam outpost, after residents declared that they would not honor the deal. Although they have wavered in that resolve, this week they stated that they would resist any attempts to take away three of the 10 structures at the site. As of Wednesday night, activists from Eretz Yisrael Faithful had rallied at the outpost to help them protect the caravans. But on Wednesday morning, the 30 families who lived in Magen Dan were not prepared for battle. They did not even want to fight, said resident Ariel Schwarz, who is a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University. They respected the decision, reached by Elkana Council Head Tzadok Zehorai, that it had to be removed. The caravan had been moved to Magen Dan from an Elkana neighborhood last month to house a new family. Outpost residents consider their community to be a neighborhood of the Elkana settlement, even though attorney Talia Sasson included Magen Dan in the 2005 report she submitted to the cabinet listing 105 West Bank outposts. Schwarz said that the "neighborhood" was put up with the full cooperation of government offices, including the Civil Administration and Ehud Barak when he was prime minister. There was even a master plan for the area, said Schwarz. But he noted final approval for building at the site had never been obtained. According to the Sasson Report, the Housing and Construction Ministry spent NIS 850,000 on infrastructure for the site. Magen Dan is a community of people who serve in the army and respect the law, said Schwarz. When it became clear that the Civil Administration believed the caravan was illegal, they agreed to move it back to Elkana. They sent the council and the Civil Administration a letter to this effect on July 23, a copy of which they showed to The Jerusalem Post. Schwarz said the Civil Administration had been out to the site twice this week and both times was informed that the caravan would be gone by the end of the week. At no time, he added, was it informed of the August 8 deadline. A mover was scheduled to come Wednesday to move the caravan, but before he arrived scores of soldiers, border policemen and police descended suddenly upon the outpost along with their own truck, said Schwarz. There were so many security forces, "it was as if they were heading off to war," said Schwarz. "Everyone came out to see what was happening." He immediately began making calls, including to the Civil Administration, to explain that the hauler was on the way, and there was no need for the Civil Administration to take it down. They didn't want to listen, he said. It seemed as if what they wanted was a quick headline to show that they were destroying buildings in the settlements, he said. A security source said it had to act on Wednesday, because it was important to remove the structure before it had been on the site for more than 30-days. It is more difficult to act after that 30-day window, the source said. A spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said that the people in Magen Dan "were warned many times that if they did not abide by the agreement, the caravan would be forcibly removed." He added that Civil Administration head Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai spokes a number of times with Zehorai about the deal. When the settlers failed to comply with those terms, the Civil Administration sent Zehorai a letter warning that it would take the caravan by force if settlers did not voluntarily take it down by August 8. Even after that date, attempts were still made to sway the settlers to move the house, said the spokesman. Only after all the talks failed did the security forces remove the caravan, the spokesman said.