by Hana Levi Julian
(IsraelNN.com) The expulsion of two families from their homes in the Shalhevet neighborhood, built on the site of the former Hevron marketplace, was completed late Tuesday morning. Three thousand Border Guard officers, Yassam special forces and IDF soldiers forcibly evicted the families as well as hundreds of their supporters in an operation that began in the wee hours.
Three young protestors were the last holdouts in a cement bunker which was eventually breached by an IDF Search and Rescue unit.
Eyewitnesses reported that the IDF demolished all of the homes built in the neighborhood. Media reports said the IDF first brought in a moving company to remove the families' possessions prior to the destruction, adding that the soldiers loaded the items on to the trucks. Police removed windows and doorposts as well, in an effort to block efforts to return later to the homes.
Hevron Jewish community spokesman Noam Arnon told Arutz-7 that despite the eviction, the struggle for the Hevron marketplace, built atop the ruins of the city's old Jewish Quarter, is not over. "We will return to the Shalhevet neighborhood and the families will be back in their homes," he vowed.
Activists at the scene charged that the destruction of the homes was an act of vengeance in retaliation against the determined struggle they waged against the expulsion of the two families who lived in the neighborhood. They also expressed bitterness that the army had secured a permit to destroy the buildings prior to the expulsion.
Army officials had promised permits a year and a half ago to the eleven families who lived in the neighborhood, saying they would be allowed to return with legal status on the condition they left the premises peacefully. Nine of the families cooperated with the government officials, believing they would make good on their end of the deal. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz quickly voided the promise after they moved out, saying the army officials had no authority to make the agreement.
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Thirteen activists were arrested during the expulsion, accused of attacking police and throwing stones.
In addition, 15 police officers and 25 activists were hurt in the melee, most with light wounds. Three police officers were taken to hospital for treatment.
Activists flung oil at the Yassam forces during the expulsion, following up by spraying water at the officers and then throwing gasoline and flour, damaging the apartments as well. The activists also locked and welded shut the doors to the homes.
One of the leaders of the Hevron community, Orit Struk, reportedly asked the activists to stop fighting with the expulsion forces. The protestors stopped hurling rocks at the police after Struk's announcement.
The IDF Home Front Command's Search and Rescue Unit, usually reserved for natural disasters and building collapses due to missile strikes and other forms of terrorism, was drafted by eviction forces to remove the activists from a bunker built in a third apartment in the neighborhood.
The three youthful activists who refused to leave the sealed room, according to Army Radio, were shirtless and exhausted. Reporters peered in the tiny window built into the bunker to speak with the youths, who remained steadfast in their efforts to resist the expulsion until forces managed to penetrate the walls. Engineers worked for more than an hour to find a way to open the bunker without harming the young protestors, due to concerns that using cement-cutting saws would create sparks could ignite oxygen tanks that were placed inside the bunker.
Professors for a Strong Israel strongly condemned the expulsion efforts. "We are dealing with stores that were built on the ruins of Hevron's Jewish Quarter, whose residents were murdered and their property looted exactly 78 years ago, said a statement by the group. "The expulsion of Jews once again from property that is Jewish is the fulfillment of the intentions of the rioters who sought to uproot any Jewish presence in Hevron as the first step in ridding all of Israel of Jews."
Police broke into the home of the Bar Kochba family in the wee hours of Tuesday morning as thousands of security officers began forcibly removing the more than one hundred activists barricaded inside.
“There is serious violence going on here," activist Nadia Matar told Arutz-7 early in the morning. “There are no female soldiers or police to handle female activists and they are being very violent with us.”
Female activists reported that male Yassam officers deliberately tore the clothing off the women who resisted the forcible eviction. One activist said she assumed the move was an accident when the pants she was wearing beneath her skirt were pulled down by a Yassam officer as she was violently pulled out of the Bar Kochba home. "But when I saw that the same thing was being done to my friends, I realized this was some sort of sick tactic," she said. Similar incidents came to light during protests against the uprooting of Jews from Gaza and Northern Samaria in 2005 and following the violent demolition of houses by Yassam officers at Amona in February 2006.
Matar told Arutz-7 "they took me and beat me outside the house, but I managed to escape due to the chaos.” She was later removed from the scene by police.
Activists had surrounded the neighborhood with barrels, barbed wire and burning tires in an effort to prevent the expulsion forces from entering the area, named for a 10-month old who was murdered several years ago by a Palestinian Authority terrorist sniper. Teenagers climbed to the roofs of buildings in the market and reportedly hurled eggs, light bulbs and rocks at the government forces. Police climbed to the roofs after them.
“Despite the fact that they will succeed in removing these two families we truly see a new spirit in Judea and Samaria in the struggle for the Land of Israel,” said Matar, who had maintained an upbeat attitude during the struggle between activists and police.
“We won’t leave the marketplace voluntarily,” a determined Gershon Bar Kochba told reporters early in the operation. Bar Kochba is the head of one of the two families who were the targets of the expulsion. “The struggle will be resolute, but non-violent,” he vowed. It will be the police forces, not the residents, who determine the level of violence. We do not intend to use violence.”