The clashes have focused attention on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where Palestinians want to establish a future state. Settlements are one of six major issues that must be settled before a deal can be reached to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared to up the ante on Wednesday when he said he would not allow the settlers to overrule democracy and the rule of law in the country.
“There are phenomena that cannot be tolerated and which the government headed by me cannot accept,” Olmert said during a memorial ceremony for Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion.
“The dispute over the Land of Israel is legitimate, and the desire to maintain a Jewish presence in the holiest and most important of our cities is understandable. However, this desire cannot be stronger than the decision of the Supreme Court,” Olmert said.
Two weeks ago, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the settlers out of a building they call the House of Peace until its ownership could be determined. The Jewish tenants claim to have purchased the building from the Palestinian owner. But he says the deal was never completed and therefore the house is still his.
Israeli security forces have been hesitant to carry out the eviction order. But Olmert indicated that he would do so.
Olmert said he loved Hebron and harbored “boundless respect for its lovers, residents and guards” but said that since the Supreme Court had decided the building should be evacuated, it would be evacuated.
“I will not let anyone raise a hand against democracy in Israel,” Olmert said. He said he would try to avoid confrontation with negotiations, but he also insisted on discipline and order.
David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, questions whether the Supreme Court decision demands an evacuation of the building or simply “permits” it.
Wilder told CNSNews.com he hoped that Defense Minister Ehud Barak would avoid confronting the settlers and allow the court system to take a look at the evidence regarding the building’s ownership.
Hundreds of Jewish youths have gathered in the city. On Wednesday, some of them tried to enter another house in Hebron that was evacuated by court order earlier, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld said paramilitary border police, trained in riot control, would replace Israeli army troops in the city.
On Tuesday Jewish youths clashed with Palestinians as well as with Israeli security forces trying to separate them. They reportedly slashed tires of Palestinian security vehicles and defamed a Muslim cemetery.
Wilder said that the youths in the city had been given guidelines and instructed not to initiate violence. He said at least 75 percent of the clashes with Palestinians had been started by the other side.
On Wednesday, one settler support group sent out emails calling for people to come to Hebron to prevent what they thought was an impending evacuation.
Some settler leaders said the violence blurred the justness of their cause.
“We are doing our best to make sure that [the struggle] is a moral one and a right one, is also conducted in moral, right and clever way,” said Danny Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria (West Bank).
“We are against the last incidents. I think it was a very big mistake,” Dayan told CNSNews.com.