The hilltops surrounding the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat have once again become the center of a land dispute.
Israeli police and army troops this week forcibly removed several hundred Jewish settlers from Givat Hadagan, a rocky hilltop near Efrat where the settlers dug in two weeks ago to protest the government’s peace policy with the Palestinians.
In what has been described as the most serious instance of mass civil disobedience since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization embarked on a path toward Palestinian self-rule, the settlers employed a strategy of passive resistance as security forces began carrying them off the hill on Monday.
Several settlers, in an effort to prevent themselves from being carried away, handcuffed themselves to each other and to rocks on the hilltop. About 30 people were arrested.
The issue of Israeli settlement expansion to the forefront of Israeli- Palestinian relations in December and January, when Palestinians protested settler plans to construct new apartments on hillsides near Efrat.
At that time, the Israeli government halted the settlers’ construction plans when the Palestinians threatened to bring the peace process to a halt.
This time around, residents of Efrat and other Etzion bloc settlements in the West Bank erected a tent encampment on Givat Hadagan two weeks ago, staking claim to land that they assert is within Efrat’s municipal borders and that they refuse to hand over to the Palestinians in any future peace agreement.
An order issued by the civil administration for the settlers to evacuate the site went into effect last Friday, but went unheeded.
In anticipation of an army eviction, about 1,000 settlers gathered at Givat Hadagan.
the eviction began Monday morning, when police started dismantling tents and other makeshift structures.
In response, organizers began calling on Efrat settlers and their supporters to come to the site.
Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran, commander of the Israeli army’s central command, was among several senior Israel Defense Force officers who were on hand Monday to oversee the evacuation of the settlers.
As security forces began evacuating the settlers, commanders warned troops against using excessive force.
With their arms linked, settlers responded by singing nationalist songs.
“What the government has to realize is that they can take away these buildings and shacks, but we’ll be back,” Efrat resident Bob Steiner told Israel Radio.
“I think every movement needs a catalyst. I think Efrat will be the catalyst for the nation,” he added. “What happens here will start taking over rest of country — civil disobedience until the government goes down.”
During the day, some of the people removed from the site managed to return.
“I’ve never been producer of residents of Efrat than in these two weeks,” said Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a former New Yorker who serves as the chief rabbi of Efrat.
“We’re not violent at all,” Riskin said. “We’re merely insisting that this is our land, that we have a right to land.”
As the evictions continued, a dozen settlers set up temporary structures on another hill nearby.