Settlers try to erect new outposts

E-1 part of Ma'aleh Adumim declared closed military zone; IDF, police prepare to disperse activists.

mock outpost protest 224 (photo credit: )
mock outpost protest 224
(photo credit: )
With sleeping bags, bonfires and songs, scores of activists on seven hilltops in Judea and Samaria hunkered down for the night Sunday and braved the cold to send a Hanukka message to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that they planned to stand firm against any further territorial withdrawal. Security forces planned to evacuate the demonstrators overnight. On each of the hills they lit a menora in memory of the ancient Jewish warriors who fought off their oppressors on this holiday in ancient times. They were the last remnant of the day's events in which several thousand activists streamed to eight West Bank sites as part of a widening campaign held by Eretz Yisrael Faithful to expand the settlers' hold in Judea and Samaria. That same group sent activists to five new outpost sites on Succot and one during the summer. "We are settling the land of Israel proudly and gloriously and we won't let Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert stop us from inhabiting our country," said Nadav Efrati, 17, from the settlement of Tal Menashe in the Samarian hills. Security forces evacuated only one of the sites, Nofei Hashmonaim, outside of Hashmonaim, north of Modi'in, earlier in the day. The other sites were Maoz Esther; Givat Ha'or; Ma'alot Halhul; Netzer; Mevasseret Adumim (E-1); Shvut Ami; and Harhivi. A clampdown by security forces on settler activities has prevented the activists from immediately hauling caravans to new hilltops site to create the kind of unauthorized outposts which had been erected from 1995 to 2005. As part of that new focus on the unauthorized outposts, the National Fraud Squad on Sunday called in former Binyamin Regional Council head Pinchas Wallerstein for questioning on his alleged involvement in the construction of those outposts. The Eretz Yisrael Faithful group said it hopes to mark the eight new sites as outposts now by either building walls from stones in the area, renovating empty structures that exist there or by eventually bringing in ready-made parts of a home. Dafna Ronen, a mother of six children from Kochav Hashachar, said that she imagined that one day she would have a home at the adjoining outpost site of Maoz Esther, but that for now she would have to be satisfied with a tent. At seven of the demonstration sites, families and teens hiked up hilltops unopposed by police. Once on top they sang songs, and prayed. Among the seven sites was the contested E-1 section of Ma'aleh Adumim. But at Nofei Hashmonaim, police initially barred the path of demonstrators, who broke through a fence to the spot, according to one of the organizers, veteran activist Arye Yitzhaki. Police then evacuated the participants from the hilltop. Yitzhaki alleged that police broke the hand of a young male demonstrator and that plain clothes detectives who mingled with the activists confiscated two tents. The police commander at the scene said he did not know of any settler who was injured, except for one who tripped during the confrontation and hurt his leg. Police in turn alleged that one settler tried unsuccessfully to stab a policeman and then was able to run away. Police also arrested a settler who allegedly pushed a police man who fell, injuring his face and leg, but Yitzhaki called the charge "an absolute lie," adding that participants had been warned against using violence. At Netzer, a former hilltop outpost overlooking Route 60 between Alon Shvut and Efrat, the initial group of about 70 youths vacated the site without any violent confrontations with the dozens of Border Police troops who reported to the scene to dismantle the one building standing amid vineyards. One youth at the scene said that they concluded that they were outnumbered by the police and that they had made a conscious decision to leave rather than demonstrating violent resistance. In the afternoon, some of the teenagers came back to inspect the scene, and found that around 20 border policemen had camped out on the hill, ready to spend the night. The hilltop has been evacuated at least three times in the past month, said locals, but they were confident that after Sunday's crackdown the building would be built - and occupied - again. By the early evening, at least a dozen teens and a handful of adults were organizing to spend the night - side by side with the Border Police - at Netzer. Outside of Beit El, the wind was the only problem that a younger settler from that settlement had as he tried to hang up a yellow directional sign on an electric pole with the name of the new outpost, Givat Haor [Hill of Light], written in red magic marker. "I don't know where the new outpost is planned to be built. They just told me to hang this sign," said the young man. Soon scores of other young men and women gathered outside Beit-El, north of Jerusalem, to head to several old abandoned homes on the adjacent hilltop. They were well prepared for the event, and had even printed T-shirts with the name of the new outpost on them. Efrati of Tal Menashe explained that six families planned to move there soon. "These houses have been sitting there empty for so long and they are simply calling us to come and inhabit them. It's a good strategic spot from where we can view the neighboring Arab village and close enough to Beit-El and the required facilities," Efrati said. The women cleared the area and the men gathered stones and started to build another new building to call their own. A group of soldiers with guns, flak jackets and helmets stood nearby staring at them as the activists continued with their work. "Why can't we build a house here? It's ours," one of them asked a soldier. "Do you share your house and split it with an Arab neighbor?" The soldier kept silent. Col. Amir Abulafiya, commander of the Binyamin Brigade and who was at the site, told the older demonstrators that he wanted to maintain a good relationship, but needed to know how long they planned to stay there. "They will evacuate us and we will be back and so on and so on until one of us gives up," said Efrati. In Ma'aleh Adumim, hundreds of protesters, many of them teens, marched up the road to the hilltop overlooking Route 1 heading down to the Dead Sea. They gathered at the site of the undeveloped Ma'aleh Adumim neighborhood of E-1, approved for development back in the 1990s but for which final building permits have yet to be granted. Activists scattered throughout the hill, with some perched on stones picnicking while others prayed. On the sandy hilltop, not far from the new police station, some 100 teens sang, danced and waved flags, including the orange one that marked the protest movement against the Gaza withdrawal. They were joined by right-wing singer Ariel Zilber as well as MKs Arye Eldad (National Union) and Dudu Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu). A few small children played in a tin container used for mixing cement that had been placed there by the government, which has been working on a road and a wall at the site. Among those gathered on the hilltop was the Mackler family, who moved to Ma'aleh Adumim from Silver Spring, Maryland. Along with their four children, they brought water, diapers, wafers and Mentos sucking candies. Turning around, Miriam Mackler showed how her seven-month-old son Tzvi was still nestled in a cloth wrap on her back. When they first arrived in Israel, they were priced out of Jerusalem, so they rented in Ma'aleh Adumim where they now hoped to buy, she explained. On Sunday they hiked with their four children to the E-1 hilltop to make a statement that their new home should remain in Jewish hands. "We left a stable, steady, rich full life in America, where we have in-laws and grandparents," said Mackler. "We left where we belong to go where we should be." "There is no reason not to build on this lovely piece of land that no one seems to need," she said. Given that many people in the world have read the Bible, they know that the land of Israel was promised to the Jews, she added. As if to burn that idea into the land, at the bottom of the hill, as hikers headed down, activists placed candles in white paper bags to make the shape of a large Hanukka menora.