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Israeli forces remove protesters from Amona synagogue, finalizing outpost evacuation

Feb. 2, 2017 11:07 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 2, 2017 8:38 P.M.)
Israelis confront Israeli police forces during the evacuation of the Amona outpost on Feb. 1, 2017.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces finalized the evacuation of Amona on Thursday, clearing out remaining protesters from its synagogue, the last building in the illegal outpost where settlers and their supporters had remained entrenched after a day of violent resistance by settlers and their supporters.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a statement on Thursday morning that police forces had been “talking to leaders of the community to deal with the situation and complete the evacuation of the synagogue without major incidents.”

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported by mid-afternoon that police forces had breached the barricades preventing them from entering the synagogue after negotiations failed, and evacuated the last opponents to the outpost's relocation. The news outlet stated that smoke was coming out of the synagogue during the raid.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri stated that protesters remaining in the synagogue had thrown fire extinguishers, paint cans, and wood planks at Israeli forces.

Rosenfeld said that eight police officers were injured during the takeover of the synagogue, in addition to 24 police officers who had been lightly injured since Wednesday by Israeli protesters, who threw stones, furniture, and unspecified irritating liquids at Israeli forces.

Al-Samri said that the Israeli protesters’ behavior showed their “disrespect” of the synagogue as a place of worship, and stated that Israeli police was trying its best to maintain order and not resort to violence.

According to the police, 13 Israelis were detained for “throwing stones at police officers and being involved in disturbances” on Wednesday, and 800 people had been “removed from the area” during the evacuation.

Hundreds of Israelis had gathered on Wednesday to oppose the evacuation and demolition of Amona, which was ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court on the grounds that the outpost was built on private Palestinian lands.

Arab Joint List head Ayman Odeh, a member of the Knesset and a Palestinian citizen of Israel, criticized on Wednesday the police’s double standard between use of force in Amona and in Bedouin villages in the Negev.

“Amona is being evacuated after being built on Palestinian lands that were stolen 20 years ago, while Umm al-Hiran residents were being evacuated from their own lands, without stealing anyone else's lands,” Odeh said in a post on Facebook, referring to the deadly evacuation of a Bedouin village in January, during which the MK himself was injured.

“Unarmed Israeli police is evacuating Amona in broad daylight, where they are being very cautious in dealing with Israeli settlers, while Israeli police carried out demolitions in Umm al-Hiran completely armed and equipped with military supplies,” Odeh added.

The Amona outpost -- which, like other settlement outposts, are illegal both under international and Israeli law -- was slated for demolition following a 2008 Israeli Supreme Court decision, after eight Palestinians from neighboring villages successfully petitioned to remove the outpost on grounds that the construction was carried out on privately owned Palestinian land.

After years of appeals from right-wing Israeli government officials, and attempts by Amona settlers to prove they had legally purchased the land, an Israeli police investigation in May 2014 found the entirety of the outpost to have been built on private Palestinian lands, and that the documents used by Amona residents to try and claim their "purchases" were in fact forged.

The Israeli army on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of the Amona settlers within 48 hours, requiring that the settlers remove their property from the illegal outpost by midnight Wednesday.

Amid the evacuation, and as the Supreme Court ruled that land slated for the relocation of Amona residents was also private Palestinian land, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had taken preliminary steps to establish a new illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank to house Amona settlers -- a plan which could lead to the first new settlement officially established by the Israeli government in more than two decades.

Rights groups have highlighted that, while settler outposts constructed in Palestinian territory are considered illegal by the Israeli government, each of the some 196 government-approved Israeli settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are also built in direct violation of international law.

Netanyahu has been widely criticized for publicly claiming to advocate a two-state solution while simultaneously championing settlement policies to appeal to an increasingly right-wing government and Israeli public.

The evacuation order comes as Netanyahu has been pushing for the speedy passage of the controversial “Legalization bill,” which would see 16 llegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank -- excluding Amona -- retroactively recognized by the Israeli government.

The bill states that any settlements built in the West Bank “in good faith” -- without knowledge that the land upon which it was built was privately owned by Palestinians -- could be officially recognized by Israel pending “minimal” proof of governmental support in its establishment.

In January, Netanyahu also pledged to lift all restrictions on settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem and to advance settlement expansion in the West Bank. More than 6,000 housing units have been approved for construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank by the Israeli government since the beginning of 2017.
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