The last battle or a start of a new war?

Settlers in Netiv Ha’avot were uprooted this week, but they could become the last batch to face eviction.

Security forces evict a demonstrator from Netiv Ha’avot on Tuesday (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Security forces evict a demonstrator from Netiv Ha’avot on Tuesday
‘Stop, stop,” Itan Hay yelled on Wednesday evening, just as a large yellow crane was about to bite into the wall of his small stone home in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost on the edge of the Elazar settlement.
He spoke out of emotion and the sudden realization that a large Israeli flag still flew from the roof of his home, with its commanding view of the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank.
Hay climbed up to his roof for the last time, lifted out the large wooden flagpole and placed it briefly on his shoulders, while the white and blue cloth fluttered in the brisk wind.
He wore a white T-shirt, with red and black splotches and the slogan, “Needless destruction?”
“It was painful to see everything we had worked on for so long destroyed,” Hay later told The Jerusalem Post.
When he came back the next day, his home of 15 years, where he had lived with his wife and three children, was reduced to rubble.
His was one of 15 families who were forcibly evacuated on Tuesday as security forces carried out a High Court of Justice-ordered demolition in response to a petition by the left-wing group Peace Now.
The evacuation scenes played out as if they were the reruns of some well-known play that had been moved from Broadway to an off-Broadway stage. The audience knows the lines so well, they can recite them by heart, and many chose not to show up for the performance.
Young adults and a small number of older supporters had gathered at the outpost the previous night. Many of the families had already removed most of their belongings from their homes but returned so they could symbolically walk out or be carried by security forces.
Protest signs hung from the external walls of many homes while inside, teen activists and young adults sat on every available inch of floor space, singing or talking.
As it became known that the final evacuation would take place in the home of the Bar-Lev family, the most hard-core of the activists streamed there, barricading themselves inside and on the rooftop.
They chanted at security forces who stood stone faced outside. “Soldier, police officer, refuse your orders.”
Police pulled the demonstrators one-by-one, either crying or screaming, from the house; officers held them aloft in the air as they moved up the dirt path and helped them board a waiting bus.
In the morning, teenage girls sat singing and praying in the Bar-Lev family’s living room, with its bookcase still intact.
Talia Bar-Lev said she was comforted by the large number of people who came to sit in solidarity with them and to make a statement with their feet that “they will not be moved from here.”
“When I see all these people I am strengthened,” Bar-Lev said.
Emotions crackled inside her home and around the other 14 structures in the outpost, but the story raised little attention nationally or internationally.
Chalk some of that up to bad luck. It is difficult to edge into a news cycle that includes the historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and an investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It is even more difficult when the facts of this particular story make it hard to argue for a compelling narrative on a local or international level, beyond the sadness of losing one’s home.
NEARBY, MODULAR homes awaited the families, so they walked out the doors of their former homes and immediately set their bags down in temporary ones just a short distance away from Netiv Ha’avot.
The court had determined that the 15 homes were partially or completely built on private Palestinian property and could not be authorized. In some cases only a small portion of the house was problematic, however, the court still ruled in those instances that the entire structure must be razed.
The government is in the process of legalizing the remaining 27 homes in the small outpost and has promised to eventually build 350 homes on available state land there.
So this story is not the well-known tale of a community that has been uprooted, but rather one that in spite of the demolitions will likely flourish and grow.
On top of that, the settlement is located in an area of the West Bank that even former US president Jimmy Carter, an arch-opponent of the settler movement, believes will one day be within Israel’s sovereign borders.
But are the fortunate circumstances, which in some way ameliorate the personal pain of the 15 families, the sole reason the story passed so quietly, or are larger geo-political forces also at play?
Flash back 16 years to October 2002, when the Border Police and IDF moved against a small number of caravans on a muddy field in the Havat Gilad outpost in Samaria.
These were not well lived-in homes with rooms layered with years of memories, but temporary structures inhabited for less than a year.
IN THE LARGER drama of the Middle East, why would a caravan here or there matter? Yet, unlike Tuesday’s demolition, the story drew the attention of international reporters, including from The New York Times and the BBC, who were on hand to watch police and settlers scuffle.
It became one of the more violent outpost evacuation since the 2006 demolition of nine homes in the Amona outpost.
In the Amona case, no one had actually lived in the stone structures perched on the edge of a hilltop on the outskirts of the Ofra settlement. But the demolition decree drew thousands of protesters and even more security officers.
Border Police rode in on horseback and marched, dressed in full riot gear, to confront teenage activists who had burned tires, barricaded themselves behind barbed wire and stockpiled stones.
Dozens were injured on both sides in clashes over empty structures in which no families were made homeless as a result.
Sandwiched between Havat Gilad and Amona was the 2005 demolition of 21 Gaza settlements and four in northern Samaria, which took place over the course of several weeks.
That event, which many speculated would lead to civil war, drew media from all over the world and was watched on many Israeli television screens. Entire legal communities, some dating back to the 1970s, were demolished and a total of some 10,000 people were evicted.
What differed was not location, permanence or type of housing, but rather time, government, diplomacy and impact.
Havat Gilad, the 2005 Gaza Disengagement and the demolition of nine Amona homes all took place under former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, who many believed planned to execute withdrawals from settlements in Area C as a prelude to a two-state solution.
Left-wing Israelis and the international community paid attention to the demolitions, believing they were a prelude to the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Right believed they could prevent such a move on a grassroots level by building and protesting, faithfully guarding each rock as if the future of the Jewish people depended upon it.
THEY SAW the demolitions as signs of impending disaster that would befall the State of Israel should a Palestinian state be created in the biblical heartland, whose loss they believed posed an existential threat to the state from a security perspective.
But as the peace process has remained frozen under Netanyahu’s tenure, the international community and a bulk of the Israeli public no longer believe settlers will be evacuated. They believe annexation is more likely than evacuation.
In such an environment, civil war concerns have waned. Netanyahu dropped his commitment to the United States to remove outposts, and the government – pushed forward by right-wing politicians – began to look at how to authorize outposts and illegal settler homes.
The tide publicly shifted in 2012 with the demolitions of the Migron outpost and 30 apartment units in the Ulpana outpost.
Activists and journalists streamed into Migron in the middle of the night, ahead of security forces, for a battle that never emerged. The community was destroyed, but relocated only a few kilometers away, rather than being returned to sovereign Israel as occurred during the Gaza disengagement.
The possibility of a violent outbreak died altogether with the Ulpana outpost, where settlers created a blueprint by which demolition would be met with building.
Ulpana families agreed to leave in exchange for the construction of 300 homes.
As the peace process went into a deep freeze and the fear of an Area C evacuation faded, the issues of outposts and illegal settler building moved from the international stage to the local one.
Activists continued to battle over each rock, and the bulk of the right wing’s efforts moved to the courts and the Knesset, as politicians on the Right sought to achieve legally what they had failed to do with street demonstrations.
The internal Israeli political debate moved from how to withdraw from Area C to how to apply sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. It is a drive that was strengthened in 2017, when US President Donald Trump took office and abandoned the Obama administration’s no-tolerance attitude toward settlements.
Separately, Civil Administration land surveys – such as the one that uncovered the problem in Netiv Ha’avot – and other studies revealed a problem with illegal construction that impacted thousands of homes. These homes were constructed on private Palestinian property and could not be authorized.
The larger the number grew, the stronger the call became for a mass resolution.
The change was best symbolized by the battle fought by the residents of the Amona outpost. In 2006, they symbolized withdrawal. More than 10 years later, they became the reason for land reform and the visual symbol for the sovereignty drive.
Although they lost their homes in 2017, they secured not just the construction of a new settlement, but the Knesset passage of a bill that would retroactively legalize homes, such as theirs, built on private Palestinian property. The High Court of Justice is still adjudicating the legality of that bill.
The law is not applicable to the Netiv Ha’avot homes, because their court ruling predated the legislation.
Should the court uphold the law, residents of those homes could become some of the last settlers to face an eviction. It was hard for them, therefore, to galvanize public support for a problem that many people believe is in the process of being resolved.
“Unless the court strikes down the law,” Netiv Ha’avot’s Hay said, “there could be thousands of families who face the same danger.”