Israel and Palestinians in face off over protest camp
More than 200 Palestinian activists were refusing on Saturday evening to obey orders to leave a protest camp they set up in a part of the occupied West Bank where Israel wants to build new settler homes.
“Members of the Israeli Civil (military) Administration told us this morning that we have one hour to evacuate the site,” one of the organisers, Abir Copty, told AFP.
“We have no intention of leaving of our own accord,” she said, adding that the Israeli authorities had declared the area a “closed military zone” and told the activists to leave, but had made no demand for the tents to be taken down.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the premier wanted the protesters removed at once and that state lawyers would apply to the Israeli supreme court on Saturday evening to seek a go-ahead.
The military set up roadblocks around the hilltop site, AFP journalists at the scene reported.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said soldiers prevented him from joining the protest and told him to turn back to the West Bank city of Ramallah, just down the hill from the camp.
The Palestinians erected the 20-tent “outpost” on Friday in the sensitive E1 West Bank corridor east of Jerusalem where Palestinians say Israeli settlement construction would destroy the prospects of territorial contiguity for their promised state.
They modelled their action on the wildcat outposts set up by Jewish settler activists on Palestinian land in a bid to force the government’s hand into authorising settlement activity.
Israeli authorities quickly issued expulsion orders, but activists’ lawyers successfully petitioned the supreme court on Friday night for a stay.
“The injunction freezes any eviction for six days from the setting up of the camp on Friday,” activist Irene Nasser told AFP.
But “the Israeli… administration in the West Bank considers that this injunction applies only to the tents, not the people. This is why they tried to make us leave this morning.”
After nightfall on Saturday, the end of the Jewish sabbath, Netanyahu’s office said he was seeking to have the injunction overturned.
“The state will this evening petition the supreme court to cancel its injunction delaying the eviction,” a statement said. “Until the court decides its response to the state’s request the prime minister has ordered that roads to the site be closed.”
The protest outpost, named Bab al-Shams (Gate of the Sun in Arabic), lies between Israeli-annexed Arab east Jerusalem and the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim.
An AFP journalist said protesters on the freezing hilltop were in good spirits as they sought to heat tea and coffee, waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Palestine is free!” and “Down with the occupation!”
“It’s nice to build a village here without Israeli permission. We are here to stay,” an activist from Ramallah told AFP.
A hundred Palestinians, with blankets, food and water arrived in the early afternoon by bus from Ramallah, an AFP journalist said.
Other activists from Ramallah and Hebron were aiming to join later, activists tweeted.
“We Palestinians are still pessimistic, but this initiative gives us reason to be optimistic,” Omar Ghassan, 27, from Ramallah told AFP.
“This is a new type of resistance, different to armed resistance or stone-throwing,” he said, adding that he had spent the day in the camp.
The international community regards all Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land as illegal. The Israeli government makes a distinction between those that it has authorised and those it has not, and sometimes approves the latter.