(September 4, 2012 / JNS) The evacuation of all 50 Jewish families in Israel’s Migron outpost was completed on Sunday evening without major incident. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the successful and peaceful evacuation—but vowed that his government would continue to strengthen Jewish communities in the West Bank.
Speaking at an event to celebrate the opening of the new Lod District Court, Netanyahu said, “We are committed to following the rule of law in this country. This is a clear line that I follow, even on sensitive days like these. We honor court orders and we also strengthen the settlements, there is no contradiction between the two. I welcome the fact that the Migron issue, like that of Ulpana before it, ended through dialogue and responsibility and without violence while honoring the court ruling. That is how it needs to be and that is how it will be.”
Israeli police said on Sunday that Jewish residents left Migron quietly for temporary housing in another neighborhood, Givat Hayekev, but eight youths who came to Migron to protest against the eviction were arrested for attacking police. Some 70 Jewish youths ensconced themselves into two buildings at the outpost on Saturday night ahead of the expected evacuation, despite opposition from other residents. Far Right MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) was among those who had to be forcibly removed from the site.
The area has now been declared a closed military zone, and Israeli Defense Ministry staff stayed on site Sunday to pack up the belongings of the residents. Almost all structures at the site—except for those on one lot where the ownership is still being investigated—will be demolished by Sept. 11.
Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now—the group that started the legal challenge against Jewish residents of Migron—welcomed the evacuation and said it “proves that when the police wants to, it can peacefully and quickly evacuate even the largest outpost.”
The next battle in the West Bank is expected to be over the outposts of Amona and Givat Asaf. Israel informed its High Court of Justice that both would be removed by the end of 2012, but the court has not yet presented its final ruling on the matter. The Yesha Council—an umbrella organization of municipal councils in West Bank Jewish communities—therefore believes that the government still has the opportunity to retroactively authorize these outposts, as it did recently with Bruchin, Sansana and Rechelim.
The High Court’s ruling last week that Migron residents must leave by Sept. 4 ended a legal saga that dated back to 2006, when the Peace Now movement petitioned the court on behalf of alleged Palestinian landowners who claimed the Jewish community had illegally usurped their property. In August 2011, the court ruled in favor of the Palestinian plaintiffs and ordered the outpost removed by April 2012. Shortly before the deadline elapsed, the residents and government announced a deal to relocate the community, but the court struck it down, saying it would be inappropriate to overturn a final ruling in a case that had been thoroughly litigated. The agreement, which would have allowed the residents to stay for an additional three years, also failed to fully comply with the High Court’s decision to remove the homes and left an opening for their future re-occupation by stipulating that the army will get to decide their fate.
In a last-ditch effort, the residents attempted to convince the court that the land had been properly purchased in a recent transaction. In its ruling last week, the court conceded that it could not ascertain the authenticity of the purchase documents, but even if the land had been lawfully obtained, this would not constitute sufficient grounds to overturn the original decision, because the homes were not properly licensed. The court said only one plot in Migron would be spared evacuation, as it may lie on state property.
Netanyahu, who at first wanted to have the Migron evacuation delayed by a few years to placate members of his coalition, said he would comply with the High Court’s ruling while at the same time bolstering the Jewish presence in the West Bank. In Ulpana, June’s orderly evacuation of the roughly 30 families in that community was made possible in large part because of the government’s promise to build hundreds of new housing units in Beit El and other communities in the West Bank.
Migron residents spent their last Shabbat at the outpost over the weekend, holding study sessions and engaging in prayer, alongside special Shabbat meals and related events. “This was a very uplifting Shabbat but also very heart-wrenching,” one resident said on Saturday. “The feeling is that this may be our last Shabbat; it has begun to sink in.”
On Saturday night, residents congregated outside the outpost’s synagogue to discuss what lies ahead.
Binyamin Regional Council head Avi Roeh paid a visit to the community, bringing along with him members of his social service apparatus.
Ahead of the impending evacuation, residents were split over whether to accept the alternative accommodation offered by the Israeli Defense Ministry. There were also diverging opinions on what their conduct should be when the time would come to evacuate, and whether or not they would engage in civil disobedience. However, there was an across-the-board consensus that the residents would not voluntarily leave en masse.
The Israeli Defense Ministry worked around the clock to complete the alternative housing units, consisting of prefabricated homes. All housing units are connected to an electricity grid and have running water and functioning kitchens with gas stoves. The homes were also equipped with air conditioning units. Palestinians who had been hired to prepare the site removed safety hazards, assembling handrails and completing the main road and infrastructure there.