JERUSALEM—After six years of legal wrangling and following a final injunction issued by the Israeli Supreme Court, residents of the contentious West Bank outpost of Migron began moving out early Sunday morning.
Israel Police and soldiers were on hand as families were individually served with eviction notices at about 6 a.m. Several dozen youths who had barricaded themselves in emptied Migron structures during the course of the night were forcibly removed from the area.
Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said that roadblocks had been set up to prevent any disturbances and that he anticipated the evacuation would be complete by the end of the day.
"We hope there will be no need for the police to respond," he said.
The settlement, which was established in 2001, has been deemed illegal by every Israeli judicial authority. Despite this and the lack of statutory planning or any cabinet decision approving construction, Israel's Housing Ministry has invested close to a million dollars on basic infrastructure for the settlement.
The now empty structures of Migron, located on a dusty and remote hill between Jerusalem and Ramallah, could stand as a monument to the jumbled and ambiguous Israeli attitude to the increasingly audacious, occasionally lawless, settler movement.
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In 2003, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that Migron would be dismantled. The intervening years have held a high-stakes game of hide-and-seek between the settlers—who have employed every legal ruse including falsified property deeds—to attempt to remain on the land; government officials, even ministers, sympathetic to their cause; and Palestinian plaintiffs claiming ownership of the rocky mount.
In this context, Israel's Supreme Court has increasingly found itself cast as the schoolmarm obliging the government to abide by its own laws.
In November 2008, as the government requested yet another delay, then-Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish admonished the state saying "You submit documents full of promises, but without any information regarding who will actually see this through in 3 years time. Your statements have turned into meaningless words. In your statements you have revealed some of your secrets: you explain how the evacuation will be carried out, but you never actually say that it will be carried out."
Migron has become a flashpoint for many holding on to the view that the West Bank is all Israeli land, with or without legal license. Last Thursday, Jeff Daube, the director of the Israel office of the Zionist Organization of America, was on hand at Migron to tell journalists about the new office he had inaugurated in the soon-to-be dispossessed synagogue.
His two points, he said, were to denounce "foreign interference" in the question of Migron and to demand "due process."
By foreign interference, Daube meant American insistence that Israel stick to its commitments regarding no settlement growth, part of the United States' attempt to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. "Of course I am forced to accept the Supreme Court decision," he said, "but I do not agree with it."
While replacement housing is being completed at government expense a few hundred yards from Migron, on a patch of land that is classified as a military area, Migron's 33 families are being temporarily relocated to the campus of a college in the nearby settlement of Ofra.
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Aviela Dietsch, a 40-year-old mother of six and the foreign press spokeswoman for Migron, took journalists on a short tour of the settlement, pointing out the electrical poles and roads funded by the government.
"How can anyone say we are illegal if the government is the one that set all this up?" Diestsch said. "How can we be criminalized for something that the government has authorized? We pay taxes, we pay rent, we go to the army—we are not the criminals."
As the weekend approached, Dietsch, a Wisconsin native who had not yet been presented with a personal eviction notice but was aware of the Supreme Court's decisions, said that she was "preparing for Shabbat, like any Jewish mom." She moved to Migron about 18 months ago from a neighboring settlement, among other reasons for the "fantastic" schools.
Migron is comprised of few permanent stone structures and several dozen semi-permanent trailers. Asked about the preponderance of trailers, Miri Ovadia, another spokeswoman, explained that the residents "usually follow the law, so the caravans are here because we did not receive permits to build permanent houses."
No one on the settlement seemed to be packing, no one seemed to be preparing to obey the order. Itay Chamo, Migron's spokesman, said that living in Migron, for him, was "just like living in Petach Tikvah" a leafy suburb of Tel Aviv.
"How would you like it if you were moved around every two days?" he asked.