JERUSALEM — The six-year legal battle over Migron came to an end Sunday as the flagship Jewish outpost in the West Bank quietly emptied of its residents, leaving security forces to deal with outside pro-settlement activists on the site throughout the morning and Defense Ministry crews to pack their belongings.
"Jews do not expel Jews," supporters of Migron chanted at the special police units filing into the outpost in the morning, carrying shields in case of possible clashes. By late afternoon, officials were satisfied with the operation. Some families had left overnight, others early in the morning in cooperation with authorities, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told reporters.
Police roadblocks deployed overnight kept most protesters out; the few activists holed up in vacated homes were carried out by police, who arrested eight people. No injuries were reported. The roadblocks will remain another day while the site itself is turned over to government authority.
Rosenfeld said the police would step up patrols over the next 24 hours to counter possible backlash from Jewish extremists, including small-scale retaliation in the West Bank or blocking roads in Jerusalem.
Police teams delivered eviction notices throughout the outpost earlier in the morning, requiring that the settlers comply with last week's ruling by Israel's Supreme Court that the 50 families living in the outpost — the largest unauthorized Jewish community in the West Bank — vacate the site by Tuesday. The homes will be removed next week.
"This is a difficult day," Danny Dayan, head of the settlers' umbrella group, told Israeli radio. "This is a step back," he said, but hoped it would be followed by "many steps forward in the struggle for the settlement."
Following a petition served by the veteran anti-settlement organization Peace Now in 2006, the Israeli government conceded that Migron was built at least in partly on land owned privately by Palestinians, which has been prohibited since a landmark court ruling over 30 years ago. The international community widely considers all Israeli settlement in the West Bank illegal.
A previous Israeli government promised to remove the outpost in 2007 but requested an extension in order to reach an agreement with the settlers on a peaceful evacuation, hoping to avoid a politically damaging high-profile eviction.
Last year, the court lost its patience with repeated promises and delays and ruled the outpost had to be removed by March. This prompted current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to negotiate with the settlers, who ultimately agreed to leave voluntarily and relocate to a new site built for them on the nearby hilltop of Givat Hayekev, with full government funding and approval.
Lawmaker Zehava Galon, head of Meretz, a small left-wing parliamentary faction opposed to the settlements, criticized government funding for the relocation on a posting via Facebook (in Hebrew), adding that "crime evidently pays."
The court has yet to rule on a last-minute petition filed by 17 of Migron's 50 families, claiming they had purchased part of the lands from their Palestinian owners. The houses on that small part of the site will not be demolished until the court rules in the case.
"This will end with two settlements," not one, said Migron spokesman Itay Hemo, with hopes they would yet return.
On Sunday afternoon, the army declared the empty site a closed military zone.
Residents of Migron did not want to speak to the media. Some of the houses were painted with slogans such as "Bibi is good for Arabs," a reference to Netanyahu's nickname, and "We will not lose hope." Most families left for the nearby settlement of Ofra while finishing touches are put on the new site.
After a short standoff with the police, right-wing activists holed up inside a vacated home were carried out forcefully by security forces, and another handful of young protesters who had taken to a rooftop waving a flag were carried down. Teams assigned by the defense ministry are expected to pack the families' belongings and move them to the new site in coming days.
Another large outpost, the Ulpana hilltop, was evacuated in a similar arrangement in June, as well as a few smaller ones in recent months. Repeated petitions forced Netanyahu's government to balance its obligation to comply with Supreme Court rulings with its commitment to settlements and its pro-settlement political power-base by reaching the costly agreements to relocate settlers.
Netanyahu stressed his government's commitment to "respecting the rule of law and strengthening settlements," adding the two were not contradictory. He welcomed the nonviolent conclusion of the Migron affair.
— Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: Israeli policemen carry away a protester from a home at the illegal outpost of Migron in the West Bank on Sunday. Credit: Abir Sultan / European Pressphoto Agency.