BEIT EL, Israel – Following confrontations between Jewish nationalists and security forces here, Israeli military bulldozers on Wednesday razed two Jewish buildings located within the biblical town of Beit El, a sizable Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
The scenes were reminiscent of the civil disobedience that preceded Israel’s 2005 evacuation of Gush Katif, a slate of Jewish communities inside the Gaza Strip. And Wednesday’s events took place just days after the 10th anniversary of the start of the Gaza Jewish expulsion.
The clashes actually started Tuesday and continued Wednesday as nationalist activists tried repeatedly to occupy the two buildings in question, referred to as the Draynoff buildings, the namesake of the family behind the construction.
Police fired smoke grenades at the protesters and arrested at least nine amid reports a small number of protesters had pelted security forces with stones and chairs.
The 36-hour protest was mostly peaceful, consisting of Jewish activists who used passive civil disobedience to try to block the area leading to the two buildings.
Most of the protesters congregated at the Ohad gate, an emergency exit located just outside the Draynoff buildings that was being used by Israeli forces to bring in equipment to raze the buildings. Military police forcible removed scores of protesters to make way for the demolition of the buildings.
The Israel Defense Forces imposed a military blockade on the entrance to Beit El in a bid to stem the tide of protesters traveling to the city. WND was able to gain access due to a military exemption for credentialed news media outlets.
The protesters eventually dissipated after the owner of the buildings called for an end to the protest movement, explaining the buildings would just be rebuilt anyway.
The protest movement started Monday night amid reports the military was moving in to raze the building following a decision by the notoriously activist Supreme Court here.
The Draynoff buildings are located within the Jewish community of Beit El, which has a population of more than 6,000 residents.
The two structures, meant to become apartment buildings, are located next to other apartment buildings in the city. Their demolition will not change the status quo in Beit El, nor will the land be used by Palestinians.
In 1970, three years after the Six Day War, Israel built on Beit El originally for military purposes. The Israeli government in 1978 officially approved the establishment of the Beit El community on that land.
The Draynoff buildings were constructed with the encouragement of the Beit El City Council and other government agencies here.
In 2010, attorneys for the far-left, European-funded anti-settler Yesh Din Israeli legal activist group petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of a private Palestinian named Abd al-Rahman Qassem, who claimed he owned the land where the buildings were built.
Qassem never fully proved his case nor did he provide sufficient documentation to show conclusively that he was the rightful owner. The Supreme Court gave the state two years to arrange for building permits and approve the status of the land or to raze the buildings. The ruling hinged not on the property belonging to Qassem but on the buildings being constructed without the proper permits.
Despite the approval by the local council, the state never fully approved the land permits, instead asking for several extensions while considering a plan that would have approved building permits for the properties retroactively.
The Supreme Court did not accept the state’s actions and ruled the two buildings must be demolished. This despite the likelihood the properties will only be rebuilt once the state approved permits for that land.
Indeed, largely unreported in the Israeli media is that Israel’s civil administration last week officially gave approval for construction at the site. Still, the Supreme Court ruled the state acted too late and that the buildings must be destroyed.
In other countries, a demolition based on permit disputes would likely not even make the local news and would certainly not cause a ruckus followed internationally. However, in Israel, the razing of Jewish homes in nationalist communities is an extremely sensitive issue, particularly after the national trauma experienced during the Gaza evacuation, where Jewish soldiers and settlers were filmed crying in each others arms as the Israeli army was charged with the difficult task or removing Jews from their homes.
“One might think this sounds like a reasonable decision by the Supreme Court,” stated Beit El City Council member Chaim Silberstein, who lives 30 yards from the Draynoff buildings.
“But there’s no precedent of this ever been done other than on Jews,” Silberstein told WND. “If Arabs build on Jewish property, and it’s been proven beyond a doubt that they built illegally and without permits, it’s never been ruled that the Arab buildings should be destroyed.
“In the worst case scenario, the Arabs would have to compensate the land owner.”
Indeed, WND previously reported on illegal construction over the last decade of dozens of Palestinian apartment buildings and a refugee camp on land in Jerusalem legally owned by a Jewish group and purchased primarily using Jewish donor funds.
Baruch Gordon, director of development Beit El Institutions, slammed the Supreme Court decision, claiming the judicial body was “out to crush the spirits of an entire public that the court feels threatened by.”
Gordon charged that Justice Miriam Naor, the Supreme Court president, “is saying that ‘I recognize and know in two weeks or two months they will rebuild. But I want to teach you a lesson to make this money go to waste, crush their spirits.'”
Naor and Deputy Supreme Court President Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in their ruling that “at the end of the day, a person who builds on private land does it at his own risk and takes the risk, which can be prevented in advance.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett was one of several Knesset members who joined the protesters in solidarity, telling the Beit El crowd he opposed the Supreme Court decision and called upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue a statement against the move.
“In the early morning hours I spoke to the prime minister. I demanded that during the day, the government of Israel issue an official message to the high court that it opposes the destruction of homes, and we’re following up on that now,” Bennett said.
Responding to the protests, Netanyahu’s government said the Supreme Court should accept an appeal from the state and provide an injunction preventing the razing of the buildings.
The court, however, maintained their ruling and the Draynoff buildings were razed Wednesday.
Netanyahu said he would immediately approve the construction of 300 new homes in Jerusalem.
Silberstein confirmed to WND that he received the order for the new homes, signed directly by Netanyahu.
Yair Lapid, an opposition Knesset member, criticized Netanyahu, saying “While the prime minister is busy making public political statements against the destruction of buildings and finding legal training, security forces and IDF soldiers are in the field.”
“They are upholding the law and preventing unnecessary escalations,” he said.
Beit El – anciently called Bethel, meaning “house of God” – is where Scripture says the patriarch Jacob slept on a stone pillow and dreamed of angels ascending and descending a stairway to heaven. In that dream, the Torah relates, God spoke directly to Jacob and reaffirmed the promise of territory. Earlier, God had promised the land of Israel to Abraham at Beit El. In Exodus, the tabernacle rested just north of Beit El in Shiloh, believed to be the first area the ancient Israelites settled after fleeing Egypt.
See buildings being razed, in a video by WND’s Aaron Klein:
Watch Israeli military remove Jewish protesters in Beit El, in a video by Baruch Gordon for WND: