ULPANA OUTPOST, West Bank (AP) — Israel began the evacuation of an illegal West Bank settlement outpost on Tuesday after persuading dozens of residents to leave the enclave without the violence that has plagued similar pullouts in the past.
After weeks of quiet negotiations with the government, residents of the Ulpana outpost begrudgingly packed their belongings and piled them onto moving trucks. One woman cried as government workers took away small flower pots from her home.
"This is not a happy day for Israel," said Brad Kitay, an Ulpana resident. "To leave a house is very simple, but to leave a home is very difficult."
Israel's Supreme Court had ordered the outpost dismantled earlier this year after determining it was built on privately owned Palestinian land. Israel considers such construction illegal, but at the same time it authorizes construction elsewhere in the West Bank, on lands considered state-owned.
The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, as part of a future state. They, along with the international community, consider all Israeli settlement on occupied land illegal or illegitimate.
The Israeli Defense Ministry said about 15 families, half of the Ulpana community, were leaving the outpost on Tuesday and moving to temporary trailer homes nearby, while the rest were set to move later this week. No soldiers or police officers were in sight Tuesday, in what appeared to be a carefully-orchestrated plan to show a quiet evacuation.
It was a sharp contrast to violent spectacles of Israeli-on-Israeli fighting in forced settler evacuations of the past decade. The Defense Ministry said it had reached an understanding with community leaders and residents that they would not to put up a fight.
In Ulpana, most residents were ready for the move Tuesday morning, though one family started frantically packing their belongings at the last minute. Teams of plainclothes officials in fluorescent vests were assigned to each family, helping the family members pack up.
In a small act of defiance, some residents refused to cooperate, forcing their friends and the Defense Ministry workers to pack and remove the boxes.
Teenagers from the outpost and their supporters posted messages on packing boxes saying "Going with broken hearts but with heads high," and scrawled slogans on the walls of the evacuated homes, including, "Bibi threw us out of our house," using Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nickname.
In the summer of 2005, settlers and thousands of their supporters held mass protests, setting bonfires and sometimes chaining themselves to homes to resist Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip. The following year, dozens of people were wounded in violent clashes between settlers and security forces when Israel evacuated an illegal West Bank outpost.
Netanyahu, a longtime supporter of the settlement movement, has been careful to avoid similar scenes during the Ulpana evacuation. After Israeli lawmakers failed in a belated attempt to legalize Ulpana, Netanyahu vowed to build 850 new apartments in various West Bank settlements, including 300 in the adjacent settlement of Beit El.
Netanyahu has also promised to uproot the five Ulpana apartment buildings and move them to another location, though Israeli engineers say the plan is impractical and expensive.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib played down Tuesday's evacuation, saying the decision to add new settlement units overshadowed the evacuation. "This is more important in my point of view," he said.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down nearly four years ago and have remained frozen, in large part because of the settlement issue.
The Palestinians have demanded a freeze on settlement construction before returning to the negotiating table, saying there is no point in talking as long as Israel continues settling its residents on occupied land. Netanyahu says talks should resume without any preconditions.
There are more than 500,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, in areas which the Palestinians claim for their future state.