A group of Jewish Israeli settlers have stormed a village near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank with the aim of constructing an illegal settlement outpost. The group entered the village of Tuqu', east of Bethlehem, yesterday under the protection of the Israeli army, and set up a mobile home, a tactic used regularly to establish illegal Israeli outposts on land across the occupied Palestinian territories.
According to the head of the Bethlehem office of the Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission, Hassan Breijieh, the settlers "stormed a 200-dunam tract of land [around 50 acres], located to the east of the village [Tuqu']." Speaking to Wafa, he added that, "Palestinian landowners fended off the settlers' attempt to seize their land and produced their title deeds."
Tuqu' has been targeted repeatedly by Israel in recent weeks. Last week, three Palestinian students were injured by live ammunition after Israeli forces stormed the village and surrounded the local high school. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society confirmed that its medical crew had transferred three people suffering from wounds to the abdomen, pelvis and leg to the nearby Beit Jala Hospital, Ma'an reported. Two of the three students were in a critical condition, added the Red Crescent.
Earlier in January the Israeli army distributed leaflets threatening the residents of Tuqu' with collective punishment. The army claimed that illegal Jewish settlers' vehicles are "repeatedly attacked with rocks." The leaflet threatened the withdrawal of Israeli entry permits for anyone found to be involved. Soldiers stormed Tuqu' in order to distribute the leaflets; a video on the Ma'an website shows them attaching posters to buildings and doors within the village.
Just two days earlier, 50 illegal settlers had attacked Tuqu' and thrown rocks at Palestinian vehicles. Though nobody appears to have been injured, the attack caused severe material damage and, like most cases of settler violence against Palestinians, was not investigated by the Israeli authorities.
Israel's settlement project shows no sign of slowing. This week, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin revealed that the upcoming Israeli government aims to settle an additional one million settlers in the occupied West Bank. In a meeting with Yossi Dagan, the chairman of one of Israel's West Bank regional councils, Levin explained: "Our goal is to settle one million more settlers in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank] and this must be achieved in a very short time. Our power on the ground is the basis here […] We are here in our land of Israel and this is an inalienable fact."
Israel often uses so-called outposts to implement this "facts on the ground" policy. Outposts, which usually consist of only a few pre-fabricated mobile homes, are small illegal settlements established without approval from the Israeli government. Israel differentiates between outposts and settlements; the latter are government sanctioned despite being illegal under international law whereas it is claimed that outposts are created by rogue settlers against the government's wishes.
Despite appearing to crack down on outposts, though, Israel regularly supports the communities which live in them. Last week, the government paid compensation worth 64 million shekels ($17.5 million) to settlers who were evacuated forcibly from the illegal outposts of Amona, Ofra and Netiv Ha'avot. Around 40 settler families were evacuated from Amona in February 2017, after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the outpost was built on private Palestinian land. The settlers were relocated to Amichai, located north of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, in March last year.