Israeli police clear West Bank protest camp, question dozens

Israeli border policemen confront a Palestinian man on his way to join a protest camp on January 12.

Story highlights

  • Palestinian activists set up a protest village in an area slated for Israeli settlement
  • Israeli authorities ordered them to leave; police executed that order early Sunday
  • More than 60 activists were taken into custody, then later released, police say
  • Critical Palestinian leaders say the settlements would cut the West Bank in two
Hundreds of Israeli police swarmed a makeshift Palestinian protest camp early Sunday morning, taking dozens of activists into custody for questioning before releasing them later.
The operation marked the latest saga in the bitter back-and-forth over Israel's settlement activity in the West Bank.
The camp, which protesters dubbed Bab Alshams, sprung up Thursday, in a roughly 12-square kilometer (5-square mile) area Israel has dubbed E1.
In recent weeks, Israel has signaled its intention to construct settlements in the area. Some international leaders have criticized such a plan, as have Palestinian leaders who say it would slice the West Bank in two, cutting it off from the proposed Palestinian capital of East Jerusalem.
Mid-day Friday, Israeli authorities gave the protesters 24 hours to leave the site, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Israel's high court issued an order for the activists' evacuation late Saturday night.
"The notices were given out to all the activists here that they were trespassing," Rosenfeld said.
Shortly after midnight, more than 500 police officers descended on Bab Alshams to carry out the evacuation order. More than 60 protesters were taken into custody.
Around 5 a.m. Sunday (10 p.m. ET Saturday), all those detained had been released, said activist Abir Kopty.
Six protesters were injured when officers punched them in the face, according to the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, the organizers of the Bab Alshams protest camp.
"Even though we were evicted, our strength was apparent since the police needed hundreds and hundreds of special unit police officers," the organizers said.
"This is not the end of the popular struggle and it will continue in its full strength."
Rosenfeld denied there were injuries.
"People were taken out carefully one by one," he said.
The protest camp -- consisting of chanting activists and tents dotting an otherwise barren hilltop -- sprung up due to Israel's recently announced plans to build 3,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Construction in the E1 would be an expansion of Ma'ale Adumim, one of Israel's largest West Bank settlements which already has about 40,000 people.
"We are taking back this area, that is private Palestinian land, and building our own village," said activist Irene Nasser. "We can just look over (at other Israeli settlements) and see what this land might potentially look like, if we don't actually (take) things into our own hands."
Ma'ale Adumim's Mayor Benny Kashriel has cheered this possibility, saying, "This place, this residential neighborhood, it is in the Ma'ale Adumim municipality, part of ... government land."
But many internationally have condemned further expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, of which there are 137 (with about 325,000 residents), according to the settlement monitoring group Peace Now.
Numerous countries -- including Britain, Denmark, France, Spain, Sweden, Australia and Egypt -- summoned Israel's ambassador to hear criticism of the decision, announced late last year, to move forward with the settlement plans.
The Palestinians' chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said such a settlement will dash any hopes of a "two-state solution" -- with Israel and an independent Palestinian nation, living together in peace.
"There is no chance for a Palestinian state," Erakat has said. "Anyone who looks at the map, looks at the geography will know exactly that this decision means there is no more two-state solution."