Despite Eviction, Settlers of West Bank Outpost Maintain Goal
By Isabel Kershner, NY Times, September 2, 2012
MIGRON, West Bank—The police officers went door to door on Sunday morning in this hilltop settlement outpost east of the West Bank city of Ramallah, handing out final eviction notices and waiting patiently for residents to come out.
One young couple, the Altheims, left quietly, walking down the short path from their mobile home to their car, with a tattered Israeli flag flying from the front window, and then drove off. The police said they could hear a television on in the neighboring trailer, but when the officers knocked, nobody answered. By early afternoon, however, all 47 of the outpost’s families had gone, the police said, well ahead of Tuesday’s court-ordered deadline.
The evacuation of this outpost, one of the largest and most established of the wildcat Jewish settlements set up in the West Bank without Israeli government permits over the past 15 years, but often with government infrastructure aid, sent a mixed message about the future of settlements.
The evacuation was ordered by Israel’s Supreme Court because the outpost had been built on privately owned Palestinian land. Coming years after the Israeli military issued demolition orders against all the structures, it was seen by many as a modest victory for the rule of law.
Peace Now, the antisettlement advocacy group that petitioned the court together with several of the Palestinian landowners, said it viewed the final ruling as “a significant achievement for all those who believe in the two-state solution and in democracy.”
But Migron is also a story of the settlers’ persistence and ultimate staying power.
Although Migron’s residents may have lost after six years of legal proceedings, state procrastination and efforts by supporters to purchase the land retroactively, the 47 families will be moving only a short distance down the hill.
There, the state has built a temporary site of small, prefabricated houses in neat rows, at a cost of millions of dollars, to accommodate the families, at least until a permanent neighborhood of hundreds of new homes is completed in the nearby, state-sanctioned settlement of Adam.
“The personal pain is terrible,” said Pinchas Wallerstein, a settler leader, as he watched the evacuation. “But history showed that the evacuation of Sebastia led to the establishment of Elon Moreh,” a reference to the roots of the early spurt of the settler movement in the 1970s.
“In the end,” he added, “many Migrons will arise.”
Most of the world views all Israeli settlements in the West Bank as being in violation of international law, built on land that the Palestinians envisage as part of a future state alongside Israel. But Israel makes a distinction between the 120 or so formal settlements built with official approval and the 100 or so unauthorized outposts in the West Bank, territory it captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.
Israel has pledged in the past, under American pressure, to remove many of the outposts, but until Migron it had mainly dismantled mere dots of settlement consisting of shacks inhabited by teenagers. In June, 30 families were peacefully evacuated from five buildings in a disputed neighborhood of the Beit El settlement, just north of Ramallah, after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that they, too, were built on private Palestinian land. The evacuation was smoothed by government promises to build hundreds of new settler homes. A few outposts have been retroactively authorized.
The Migron case has divided settlers over how far to defy the authorities, or whether to cooperate with them and try to co-opt them. Posters on the roadside depicting the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pronounced, “Bibi is weak and not trustworthy; a right-wing leader needed urgently.”
Up until Sunday morning even the settlers of Migron had reached no consensus on how to act, and most of them remained tight-lipped, refusing to speak to reporters about their impending move.
The residents view settling Migron as part of a mission ordained by the Bible. A sign at the gate proclaims that the foundations of Migron were put down in 1999 out of a “right and duty to be part of a historic-divine process of returning to Zion, on the way up to Jerusalem.”
On Sunday in Migron, the only disturbances were by right-wing activists who were not residents. They tried to barricade themselves in a couple of buildings until they were hauled out by the police.
Dudu Asraf, a police spokesman at the scene, said that the important thing was “to let the families leave with dignity and at their own pace.”
One woman carried a backpack to her car with essentials like a packet of diapers, leaving the contents of her house more or less intact, down to the box of cornflakes on top of the refrigerator. Most here refused to deal with the practicalities of moving to dispel any notion that they were leaving willingly. Washing hung outside one of the trailers, another token of peaceful protest and defiance, and children’s bicycles and toys lay scattered on the small lawns and paths.
Ms. Razvag said she was home with her family when the police arrived at 8 a.m. “We got up and left,” she said, speaking by phone from a college in Ofra, another settlement, the first stop for many of the evacuees.
Later, removal trucks and teams from the Defense Ministry would come to help pack the belongings that the families had left behind.