Israel forces clash with Jewish settlers in the West Bank (courtesy: Israel National News)
JERUSALEM – Violent clashes broke out today between Israeli forces and Jewish demonstrators protesting the demolition of nine homes in a small West Bank outpost, with reports of excessive use of force against the protesters, many of whom were severely injured.
Analysts here view the West Bank home destructions as part of a larger campaign to withdraw from the area.
More than 1,500 Israeli Defense Force soldiers and Israeli police officers were called up to demolish the nine homes in the northern West Bank hilltop town of Amona after the court system ruled the houses were constructed without a permit. The government said the homes could be rebuilt at a later date in the same community if the construction is coordinated with the Ministry of Defense.
Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the demolitions be carried out immediately and instructed the military to use “all force necessary.”
Horse-mounted police, water cannons and specially trained riot officers faced off against hundreds of protesters who massed in Amona in hopes of halting the demolitions. Israeli television broadcast live footage of demonstrators, including women and children, being dragged and beaten by soldiers. Teenagers with bloody noses and head wounds were seen being removed from the scene. Police were shown using batons and gas canisters to clear the area of demonstrators.
Knesset Member Effie Eitam evacuated after suffering head injury in clash with Israeli forces (courtesy: Israel National News)
More than 300 protesters were treated in makeshift first aid tents. At least 70 were evacuated to Jerusalem hospitals with moderate-to-serious injuries.
Three Israeli nationalist lawmakers, Effie Eitam, Benny Elon and Aryeh Eldad were seriously wounded in the clashes. Eitam suffered a head injury after being pushed by soldiers. He was undergoing neurological tests in Jerusalem. Elon was injured after reportedly being pushed off a bulldozer by troops. Eldad sustained an arm fracture after being shoved to the ground by police.
Dozens of police also were wounded in the clashes. There were reports of some protesters throwing stones and paint at security forces. Many demonstrators resisted removal from the area and kicked and squirmed while being carried away. More than 80 protesters were arrested.
After three hours of clashes, the soldiers cleared the area of protesters and razed the nine homes.
Large rallies then broke out at the entrances to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to protest the reported extreme violence used by the soldiers. Thousands of police were deployed to ensure protesters did not block major highways and roads.
The Rabbis Settlement Council said in a statement: “We are shocked from the cruel and horrific abuse perpetrated by Israeli police upon Jews … 37,000 demolition orders are ready to be executed, and of all of them, the Supreme Court and the police chose precisely this one in Amona, with the goal of destroying the religious-Zionist public.”
Some Israeli commentators have been questioning the timing of the demolition orders, which come as Olmert begins to launch his Kadima Party’s political campaign after official installation last month as party chairman. The commentators say Olmert will need to demonstrate he is capable of carrying out the policies of Kadima in absence of its founder, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who remains comatose in a Jerusalem hospital following a severe stroke.
Many Kadima members have stated the new party is looking to change Israel’s borders.
Olmert has expressed approval of West Bank withdrawals and has made statements to reporters about the possibility of vacating certain peripheral areas of Jerusalem.
Also Olmert, who previously served as mayor of Jerusalem, was the first Sharon deputy to go public with the Gaza-withdrawal plan.
Yishai Fleischer, a host from Israel National Radio present at today’s Amona home demolitions, told WND: “This was for the cameras. There was no reason Olmert couldn’t have settled this peacefully. Instead he sent the army to create a show to demonstrate to the Israeli public and the international community he is not afraid to confront Jewish residents in the area and go through with a large withdrawal. He turned a case of nine homes in a remote community into a war against the West Bank.”
The West Bank is considered landlocked territory not officially recognized as part of any country. Israel calls the land “disputed.” The United Nations claims the West Bank is “occupied” by Israel, which maintains overall control of most of the area while the Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction in about 40 percent. The Palestinians claim a population of roughly 2.4 million, but new demographic studies show the numbers likely are inflated. The actual Palestinian population could be up to 1 million less.
The territory remained under Jordanian rule from 1948 until Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 after Jordan’s King Hussein ignored Israeli pleas for his country to stay out of the Six Day War. Most countries rejected Jordan’s initial claim on the area, which it formally renounced in 1988.
The West Bank borders most of Israel’s major cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Military strategists long have estimated Israel must maintain the West Bank to defend its borders from any ground invasion.
Many villages in the West Bank, which Israelis commonly refer to as the “biblical heartland,” are mentioned throughout the Old Testament.
The Book of Genesis says Abraham entered Israel at Shechem (Nablus) and received God’s promise of land for his offspring. He later was buried in Hebron.
The nearby town of 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, God spoke directly to Jacob and reaffirmed the promise of territory.
And in Exodus, the holy tabernacle rested in Shilo, believed to be the first area the ancient Israelites settled after fleeing Egypt.