The residents of Migron, the largest and oldest Israeli settlement outpost in the West Bank, evacuated the site voluntarily on Sunday ahead of a court-ordered deadline, police told AFP.
The outpost in the occupied West Bank, built without Israeli state permission, is on private Palestinian land and in August 2011 Israel’s Supreme Court ordered that it be cleared.
The evacuation has been repeatedly delayed in the face of fierce settler opposition, but last week the court said the 50 families resident in the outpost had to be out by the end of Tuesday.
“All the families are gone,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP, noting that most left on their own while some passively resisted and were removed by police forces. “Everything is quiet here.”
Most families left for temporary housing in the nearby settlement of Ofra, where they will be housed until homes in a new settlement being built for them, Givat Hayekev, are ready.
A handful of mostly women and children were seen leaving their homes early on Sunday, although none appeared to be taking luggage with them, an AFP correspondent reported.
Graffiti and signs on their homes sounded defiant tones. “Migron, we shall return,” and “We will never forget Zionism,” slogans read.
But the outpost’s residents were largely silent, trying to avoid being questioned or photographed by the media scrum.
The Israeli military said implementation of the court order began overnight.
“Several families began leaving Migron voluntarily during the night,” a spokeswoman said.
Early on Sunday, officials began distributing the evacuation orders to the families, with scores of police officers on hand to prevent unrest.
In anticipation of police attempts to forcibly move the families, around 70 young settler activists, who do not live in Migron, took over a caravan at the site and barricaded themselves in, while others could be seen on the roof.
Samri said the youths were eventually removed from the site, and police arrested eight of them.
Last week, the Supreme Court said Migron must be cleared of all residents by September 4 and all the buildings removed by September 11, after rejecting an appeal by 17 families who argued that they had legally purchased the land where their homes stood.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now welcomed the ruling as a “victory for the state of law,” but the settlers described it as a “brutal rape.”
Israel outlaws settlement outposts being built without government approval and often sends security personnel to demolish them. They usually consist of little more than a few trailers.
The international community considers all settlements built in the occupied West Bank — including annexed Arab east Jerusalem — to be illegal.