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4 arrested during razing of illegal Israeli West Bank outpost, drawing settler outcry

Security forces evacuated an illegal West Bank outpost Wednesday morning in a move that sparked an outcry among settler activists and from at least one member of the hardline coalition, which includes some of the settlement movement’s most ardent backers.

Four settlers were arrested amid scuffles with dozens of Border Police officers and Civil Administration personnel who arrived to carry out the evacuation of the outpost, known as Givat Sde Yonatan, near the settlement of Ma’ale Michmash.

The commander of the forces at the scene, Miki Biton, was filmed telling a resident: “If you approach [me] one more time, I rip you into eight [pieces].” He then mockingly indicated to the activist who documented the remark that he was okay with being filmed.

Police said in a statement the actions of the officer were “not in line” with the force’s principles and would be probed.

Unnamed security officials told Channel 12 news that the evacuation was carried out because the buildings were set up on private Palestinian land.

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The outpost’s residents said that in addition to demolishing their homes, a sheep pen was destroyed and equipment was confiscated.

מפקד הפינוי סנ"צ מיקי ביטון לאחד התושבים: "עוד פעם אחת אתה מתקרב – אני מפרק אותך על שמונה". לתושב אחר שתיעד, לעג: "תצלם, תצלם טוב" pic.twitter.com/bsWTxJ4uur

— אלישע ירד (@ElishaYered) September 27, 2023

“During the evacuation, police violence was carried out against dozens of residents in the area that came to protest against the destruction,” a statement by outpost activists read, claiming that one of those arrested had been hit by police.

The statement said that during the evacuation, “Arabs from the village of Deir Dibwan across the road, who are trying in every way to evacuate the strategic hill, celebrated with joyous cheers that someone is doing the work for them.”

The statement then denounced the government, “elected with the votes of settlers and the right-wing public in order to bring an end to the policy of persecution against settlements and turning a blind eye to the Arab takeover.”

It added: “Any lawmaker or minister that remains silent this morning amid these shocking sights is a full accomplice in the crime.”

The evacuation of Givat Sde Eliyahu was the third time that Netanyahu’s current government has evacuated a settlement outpost.

Far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech tweeted images of the scene with the caption: “What’s up, Bezalel Smotrich?”

מה נסגר @bezalelsm? https://t.co/L9ZtnvQ1sz

— לימור סון הר מלך (@limor_sonhrmelh) September 27, 2023

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also serves as an additional minister in the Defense Ministry with authority over civilian issues in the West Bank, would likely have had to approve the move, despite his pro-settlement stance and advocacy for the annexation of the West Bank. He was yet to comment on the move as of Wednesday afternoon.

Last month, security forces evacuated A’ira Shahar, an illegal outpost near the settlement of Kochav Hashahar.

A source close to Smotrich, who approved that move, said at the time that the land on which the outpost was built was definitively private Palestinian land, meaning it would have been completely impossible to legalize the outpost.

In January, in the first weeks of the government’s tenure, forces evacuated the Or Chaim outpost on the order of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, sparking a clash with Smotrich.

While most of the international community considers all settlements illegal, Israel differentiates between settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.

However, outposts are sometimes erected with the state’s tacit approval, and successive governments have sought to legalize at least some of the unrecognized neighborhoods as a result.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.