Security forces on Wednesday morning converged on one of the buildings in the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood in the Gush Etzion town of Elazar, preparing to demolish it, after a High Court ruling rejecting an appeal by residents to avoid the demolitions. The building is the first of 17 that the court ruled must be demolished, as it is built on land that Palestinians claim to own.
Dozens of youths spent the night in the building, hoping to form a human shield against the bulldozers that were set to tear down the building. The army on Wednesday morning was setting up troops and positions and preparing for the demolition. At some point, the IDF spokesperson said, the army will announce an official order for those inside the building to leave.
In a statement, the IDF spokesperson said that “in conjunction with the orders of the political echelon, security forces are preparing to demolish an illegally built structure in Netiv Ha’avot. Several groups of forces are participating in the action and are working to evacuate those inside the building, while ensuring security and safety.”
Netiv Ha’avot is several feet beyond the jurisdiction of Elazar, and the land on which the neighborhood, which has been standing for a decade, is being claimed by two Arabs. According to Israeli law, a mere claim by Arabs of ownership of land is sufficient for the issuance of demolition orders by the High Court – and such issues have been ordered for the site. Previous court rulings had said that the land was actually state land, and that the buildings could remain. In light of those rulings, the High Court in its 2016 decision gave residents a year and a half to find alternative housing.
Commenting on the prospective demolition, Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman said that “it is very sad that we have come to the point where we have lost control. They tell us that the demolitions must take place because of the ‘rule of law,’ but I say that what we have here is destruction of the law. Not only will a building be demolished, but the law that says that a people is sovereign in its land is being demolished as well.”