Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Israeli Settlers Go Peacefully, with Promises of Expansion

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Israeli Settlers Go Peacefully, with Promises of Expansion

Article excerpt

The peaceful moving of 30 Jewish families from their apartments in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank appeared to be a victory for Palestinian advocates, but many said the victors were the settlers.

The moving trucks arrived here on Tuesday morning while the men were in the middle of morning prayer, their heads covered by shawls. And so began the first peaceful evacuation of a Jewish settlement from the occupied territories in memory.

More than 100 employees of the Israeli Defense Ministry, in neon- yellow vests, helped families in the neighborhood known as Ulpana pack books and diapers, and then carried boxes to the brick path behind the 33 apartments that were declared illegal because they sit on private Palestinian land.

The families moved quietly, though not willingly, to temporary homes down the hill that the Defense Ministry had constructed in the previous 21 days, resentful of losing homes they love but grateful that the government had agreed to build 10 times their number in this religious settlement near Ramallah.

"This is a dark day for Israel," said Brad Kitay, a 26-year-old rabbi whose family is one of 30 being displaced. "This is the evening before the morning, this is the darkness before the light. The Ulpana neighborhood will expand."

With Israel's Supreme Court having ruled that five of Ulpana's 14 multifamily buildings had to be removed by July 1, the government spent the past several months struggling to find a solution that would appease the settlers without enraging the international community. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would not only add about 300 homes to Beit El but also 500 elsewhere in the West Bank, and that he would try to relocate rather than demolish the Ulpana buildings.

So while the court ruling was seen as a victory for Palestinians and the Israeli left that advocates for them, Tuesday was hardly a celebration on either side. Many experts and advocates said the handling of Ulpana -- and two other settlements on private land scheduled to be evacuated this summer, Migron and Givat Assaf -- simply proved Mr. Netanyahu's commitment to the settlement enterprise.

"Bottom line is we won in rhetoric and they won in deeds," said Avrum Burg, a former Labor Party leader in the Parliament who in January started a new research group, the Center for Renewal of Israeli Democracy.

Most of the international community considers all Jewish settlements in the West Bank territory that Israel captured in the 1967 war to be illegal, but Israel distinguishes between those built with permits on state land and those constructed on private plots or without government authorization. While most maps of a potential Palestinian state imagine some of the settlements remaining in place in exchange for other land, Beit El, about 24 kilometers, or 15 miles, from Jerusalem, is not among them, making its expansion harder for those seeking an end of the conflict to accept. …

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