Israeli Police, Jewish Settlers Clash in West Bank

Clashes between Jewish settlers and Israeli police wound more than 200 people as police demolished nine homes in the unauthorized settlement outpost of Amona. They were the first demolitions ordered by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has said he will not allow settlers to flout the rule of law.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In the West Bank, more than 200 people were wounded today in clashes between Jewish settlers and Israeli police. The police had demolished nine homes in an unauthorized settlement outpost in the West Bank. These were the first demolitions ordered by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He said that he will not allow settlers to flout the rule of law.

NPR's Linda Gradstein was at the settlement outpost of Amona today.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Thousands of soldiers and police, some on horseback, charged into the crowd of Jewish protestors, most of them teenagers. The soldiers, using their batons liberally, soon reached the houses where the protestors had barricaded themselves inside and strung razor wire across the roof. In scenes reminiscent of the most violent parts of last summer's evacuation of about 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza, the settlers threw bricks, buckets of cooking oil and paint bombs at the soldiers.

The soldiers used ladders to climb on the roof and forcibly removed the protestors from the houses. Medics carried a steady stream of wounded, both police and protestors, out on stretchers. They said one policeman was seriously wounded when he was hit in the head with a brick. Jewish settler leader, Pinchas Wallerstein (ph) said he was shocked by the behavior of the police.

Mr. PINCHAS WALLERSTEIN (Leader, Jewish Settler): It would be a miracle if someone will not die here today. In all my life, I couldn't see such violence from the police force.

GRADSTEIN: Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the settlers had crossed a red line and that the State of Israel cannot accept it. Many of the young protestors here had also been involved in the struggle against the withdrawal from Gaza this summer. Seventeen-year old Akiva Novik (ph), from the nearby settlement of Ofra, said the fight over the homes was a fight for the future of the West Bank.

Mr. AKIVA NOVIK (Settler): It is in our religion. We believe that in the Bible it is written that God promised us strength, the Promised Land and therefore we're going to fight about our land.

GRADSTEIN: In less than a year, Novik will be drafted into the army and he says he doesn't like fighting Israeli soldiers, but he says he doesn't have a choice.

Mr. NOVIK: American soldiers will come to show you out of your home in Chicago, would you fight them, of course. It's our home, we bought it; it belongs to us.

GRADSTEIN: According to a government report, the nine homes demolished today were built on private Palestinian land. They had been finished recently, but families had not moved in. About 35 families live in cramped mobile homes in this outpost and the demolition orders did not affect them.

The left wing Israeli group Peace Now says there are more than 100 unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank. According to Peace Now, about half of them were built after March 2001, and should be demolished according to the U.S.-backed road map to peace. Israeli officials say there are 24 outposts in this category.

(Soundbite of demolition)

By early evening, all nine homes had been reduced to piles of rubble. While Israel's crackdown on the illegal settlers today may have been a small victory for the Palestinians who oppose all Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the Palestinian authority was dealt a blow today. Israel has frozen this month's transfer of an estimated $50 million in customs and tax payments it collected on behalf of the Palestinian authority. The Israeli move came a week after the militant Islamist Hamas movement won Palestinian Parliamentary elections and Israel says it wants to ensure the money will not be used for terrorism.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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