A group of Palestinian protesters who had built a tented village in a strategically important area of the West Bank have been evicted by Israeli police, less than 48 hours after beginning their action.
As many as 250 protesters were moved by the police and members of the Israeli Defence Force from the site in the area known as E1, east of Jerusalem, which has been earmarked for development by Israeli settlers.
The Palestinians, borrowing a tactic from settlers in the West Bank, moved into the area on Friday saying that they wanted to establish ‘facts of the ground,’ a phase often used during peace negotiations to recognise realities on the ground, rather than historic claims to ownership of land.
The activists said that they wanted to build a village called Bab al-Shams, or Gateway to the Sun, at the site. The bid comes two weeks after Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, said that Israel would press ahead with plans to build a settlement in the area, in response to the declaration at the United Nations of de facto Palestinian statehood in November.
The UN declaration attracted support from most nations, with Israel and the United States voting against the bid - the UK government abstained.
The commitment by the Israeli government to build settlements comes despite the area being internationally recognised as occupied Palestinian territory.
Palestinians say furthermore, that construction of a new settlement would seriously jeopardise the prospects of a future Palestinian state, as it would effectively cut off the West Bank from East Jerusalem, which they have designated as their capital city. The site cleared lies between East Jerusalem and the existing Jewish settlement of Maale Adumin.
Palestinian activist, Abdullah Abu Rahma, said that the protesters hoped to continue their action, and would re-pitch their tents. “Today, we will see if we can return," he said. It is thought that the Palestinians could also repeat the move in other parts of the West Bank.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police evicted the protesters from the site after a court decision authorising their removal. According to the Associated Press, he did not know which court had allowed the eviction. Mr Rosenfled said that there had been no injuries, a point disputed by the Palestinians who said that six people had been lightly hurt.
In a statement, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, a grass-roots Palestinian group, said: “Even though we were evicted, our strength was apparent since the police needed hundreds and hundreds of special unit police officers.”
Mr Netanyahu ordered that roads leading to the area be closed on Saturday evening and instructed the military to declare a closed military zone and shut off access. The prime minister’s office added that the state was petitioning Israel’s Supreme Court to rescind an earlier injunction blocking the evacuation. On Friday, the Supreme Court had given the protesters six days to dismantle their tents.
The issue of E1 settlement building has returned in recent weeks, although many doubt that the Israelis genuinely intend to build in the area, rather it is being used as a general election issue, with the polls now just over a week away.