Israeli security forces demolished the illegal settlement outpost of Ma’aleh Rehavam on May 14, encountering a small amount of opposition from residents and their supporters.
The operation, the Israeli army’s largest settlement evacuation in recent years, followed a High Court ruling that the outposts were erected on Palestinian-owned land. It was the first of three tapped for evacuation in the near future.
Dozens of far-right activists arrived at the site in the early hours of the morning to block the access road to the outpost with tires, barbed wire and rocks.
Along with several Ma’aleh Rehavam residents, they climbed onto the roofs of several structures tapped for demolition, shouting: “This is our home.” They were removed, and the demolition went ahead. Israel Defense Forces troops led the operation, backed up by border police officers.
The evacuation was delayed for about an hour to allow the settlers a last-ditch appeal to the courts. The residents of the outpost presented the court with documentation showing ownership of the land, but local settler leader Davidi Pearl said the court rejected their bid to halt the evacuation.
“Every evacuation of homes is an expression of weakness and lessens our hold on the State of Israel,” said Pearl. “But we will not flinch and we will not be silenced, and we will keep building and expanding our roots in Gush Etzion and everywhere else.”
Senior officials in the Defense Ministry, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, had been in regular contact with settler representatives in an attempt to convince them to voluntarily vacate 28 illegal structures, 16 of which were inhabited. Discussions had been ongoing for six months after the High Court ordered the state to evacuate structures built on private Palestinian land.
The deadline for vacating the structures, which include a synagogue and a mikvah, is Sunday, May 18. Because the IDF does not evacuate settlers on Friday or Saturday, the operation was expected to be completed by May 15, although there were concerns the settlers might respond with violent resistance.
Hundreds of soldiers, police officers, border guard personnel and representatives of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories have been preparing for the operation. They were to secure court orders declaring the surrounding area a closed military zone and place blockades and roadblocks near the outposts.
Israel’s defense establishment has been bracing for a wave of “price tag” attacks against IDF personnel and Palestinians in the wake of the operation.
There were further fears that right-wing extremists would attempt to vandalize and destroy Christian institutions in revenge, causing embarrassment for Israel in the run-up to the May 24-26 visit of Pope Francis.