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Thrown Out into the Cold

Binyamin Rose, Amona

The 3,000 police who evacuated Amona last week hauled away 42 families from this contested hilltop to the now familiar chant of “Jews don’t expel Jews”

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

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TORN FROM THEIR HOMES In order to avoid a repeat performance of a previous evacuation from this contested hilltop in 2006 which resulted in violence, mayhem, and some 300 injuries, this time police came unarmed. Devastation reigned nonetheless (photos: Flash90)

Avisit to Amona on a windswept Wednesday, as security forces massed at the community’s borders, awaiting orders to carry out the court-ordered eviction of 42 families, had the distinct feel of paying a mass shivah call.

Residents who dwelled in makeshift caravans, some with wood cabin siding, kept their doors open, at least until the police and border guards sent to evacuate them made their final approach.

In one home, youths from all over Israel who had spent several days in Amona — both expressing their solidarity and hoping to complicate the evacuation — sat on the cold floor, packed shoulder to shoulder, wearing glum expressions.

The leader of the youths taps me on the shoulder. “We’re about to barricade ourselves in. You can stay with us or go, but if you decide to stay, once we shut the door, you can no longer leave.”

I take the second option.

In another home, youths keep watch from the rooftop. Inside, a smaller group of teary-eyed young women exchange hugs, knowing that all too soon, they will be forced to go their separate ways. Some residents and their supporters tried to chase the feeling of impending doom, with musical instruments, dance, and inspirational songs expressing their love for — attachment to — the land.

Many residents understandably declined requests for interviews. There was no need for words. The tears, the sorrow, and the hugs said it all.

Oren Amitai, an Amona resident for 17 years, was not reticent. He led a powerful Minchah Gedolah prayer in his yard, just as word spread that the security forces were marching up the hill. On a normal day, Amitai, a pharmacist in Jerusalem, would be dispensing prescriptions, but today, he was home for the last time. He emerged from a rear bedroom of his caravan, where he had been giving chizuk to his seven children, ages 4 to 16.

“All I can say is Baruch Hashem,” Amitai begins. “Look around here. Our homes are not real homes. The electricity goes down all the time. But we are all trying to be Hashem’s servants. Every Jew has to do mitzvos. Mesirus nefesh is one of them, and that’s our special mitzvah today.”

On this day, the security forces have only one commandment: to fulfill the government’s order to evict the residents, after they exhausted all legal avenues of appeal following a Supreme Court ruling that Amona was an “illegal settlement,” built on private Arab land.

Police were unarmed, to avoid a repeat performance of a previous Amona evacuation in 2006, when a standoff between right-wing protestors and security forces resulted in violence, mayhem, and some 300 injuries. Though unarmed, the 3,000 police and border guards looked imposing as they marched in disciplined fashion. Many showed their vulnerability to the elements, covering their heads and faces with scarves on this bitter, windy day. Earlier that morning, the IDF closed Amona’s only access road after protesting youth rendered it impassable by pouring oil to make it slick, littered it with small boulders, and lit fires kindled with discarded furniture and wood planks.

None of these improvised roadblocks deterred the security forces. Their boots provided traction to trudge through the oil slicks, and they used their gloved hands and feet to clear the rocks and burning piles.

A large group of youths approached, chiding the security forces with chants of “Jews don’t expel Jews,” or “Shame on you,” while others urged them to defy their orders and turn back.

Oren Amitai led a final Minchah prayer in his yard as security forces were marching up the hill. “Every Jew has to do mitzvos. Mesirus nefesh is one of them, and that’s our special mitzvah today.”

A policeman picked up his bullhorn and warned the youths blocking their way not to throw rocks or resort to violence as the standoff became tense. Police medical units were standing by, with reinforcements from rescue agencies Magen David Adom and Hatzolah.

“When we got our instructions at headquarters, we were told that if violence was to break out, it would be the police who instigate it, not the youths,” said one of the rescue workers, who asked to be identified only as Yosef from Sderot.

Passive Resistance

When police cleared the final impediments and the road was clear, some youths shrieked and ran for cover to make their last stand, barricading themselves into homes. Others stood in place and cried out: “This is no time to run away.” 

Police lunged forward when one of the youths threw wood planks at them. A series of scuffles broke out between police and less than a handful of youths, who were promptly, but not roughly, hauled away. 

Police fanned out surrounding the various homes. The tension level rose palpably. I see Oren Amitai for the last time. “A reporter’s place is right here, right now,” he says, before darting into his house. 

When police reached the cabin of Yehoyada and Tamar Nizri and family, Tamar sat in her yard reciting Tehillim while Yehoyada spoke with a couple of reporters, refusing to criticize the invading force. “The police are just the messengers of the long arm of the law. It’s the courts and NGOs like Yesh Din who took us to court who are responsible for this,” Nizri said.

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