Two days after the a bill to legalize five disputed apartment blocks in Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood was defeated in the Knesset, would-be evacuees accused the government of abandoning them.
Frustrated residents held a closed-door meeting Thursday with prominent settler leaders from the Yesha Council (an umbrella body representing the communities in Judea and Samaria), during which they lashed out at the government for allegedly reneging on its promise to prevent their evacuation. "The government knifed us in the back," one resident said, reflecting the residents' disappointment from the MKs and the cabinet ministers. Having lost the battle to legalize their homes, residents now face an uncertain future.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the bill would have inflicted irreparable harm on Israel and put it in legal jeopardy because it would have constituted a bypassing of a High Court ruling, told his right-wing allies that building settlements should not come at the expense of the rule of law and said his plans to relocate the Ulpana homes strikes the right balance between enforcing the law and strengthening the settlement enterprise. The High Court of Justice ruled that the government must demolish the disputed buildings by July 1, as they had been built on privately owned Palestinian land.
At the meeting, the Beit El residents discussed their strategy ahead of the impending evacuation. Some of the residents complained that the government has so far not shared details on the evacuation date or its logistics. The plan that appears to be in place calls for relocating the residents of the disputed buildings - some 30 families - to a nearby location within Beit El. The state has promised to provide them with temporary housing until their homes are taken apart and reassembled at the new location, but this may take several months. Officials believe it is practically impossible to provide the residents with suitable housing by the evacuation deadline.
The residents specifically discussed their planned response when security forces come to evict them. They deliberated whether violence would be justified. "We will not hit them, but we will not let them hit us. We might lose this battle, but we won't surrender," one Ulpana resident said. The over-arching consensus among residents is that the evacuation would be met with some form of resistance. But the residents of the Ulpana homes are more concerned over potential violence on the part of security forces and fear a repeat of the violent clashes that erupted during the demolition of several unauthorized buildings at the Amona outpost in 2006, witnessed by some of the Ulpana residents first-hand. "We will not turn the other cheek," one resident said.
According to sources in the settler community the army has already indicated that the evacuation would not take place late at night or without prior notice. Officials reportedly told the settlers that the exact timing of the evacuation would be communicated in advance so as to allow the residents to prepare accordingly. The Israel Defense Forces believes this approach would allow a methodical evacuation to take place, and would demonstrate sensitivity for the needs of the settlers. But Beit El residents plan to pre-empt any surprise by keeping a large number of people in the area at all times. Residents hope this would deter the IDF from descending on the neighborhood when most residents are away at work and declaring the area a closed military zone. Having a constant and sizeable presence in the neighborhood at all times would allow them to observe the actions of the security forces and alert others.
It seems that everyone agrees on one thing: Residents will not leave voluntarily.