Israel’s army forced Palestinian activists to evacuate a West Bank encampment they had set up in protest against illegal Israeli settlement construction and declared the site a “closed military zone”.
Soldiers on Saturday destroyed tents that were being erected in two different areas near the southern West Bank town of Yatta and forced activists to leave, the Palestinian witness said.
At the first site no arrests were made, but soldiers used a cannon that shoots what is commonly referred to as “skunk” water because of its foul smell to disperse activists.
Six people were arrested at the second site, including two photographers.
“Two Palestinian journalists were arrested during the evacuation – one works for AP and the other for PalMedia,” Hebron human rights activist Issa Amro told Al Jazeera.
“The Israeli army does not distinguish the journalists from activists, or from the people living there – they just attacked everyone. They were very aggressive today.”
Two protesters were injured and taken to the hospital in nearby Hebron.
‘Closed military zone’
An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed the evacuation of the first encampment before it had been set up.
She said later that during the second operation, five Palestinian and two Israeli activists were arrested and that 100 Palestinians were dispersed after the site was declared a “closed military zone”.
“The Palestinian camp was very close to an Israeli outpost [an unofficial settlement considered illegal even under Israeli law], so they evacuated the Palestinian tents but did not evacuate the settler outposts,” Amro told Al Jazeera.
All Israeli settlement activity inside the occupied Palestinian territories is considered illegal under international law.
Palestinians fear the hilltop settlements will deny them a viable state.
With peace talks stalled for more than two years and settlement activity increasing, grassroots Palestinian activism has been on the rise.
Four tent camps – dubbed nascent Palestinian towns by the activists – have been erected and swiftly dismantled by the Israeli military since last month.
In January, Palestinians put up at 24-tent protest camp on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, dubbed Bab al-Shams, or “Gate of the Sun” in Arabic.
The move was a bid to draw attention to Israeli plans to build illegal settlements in the area, known as E1.
Many Palestinians and international activists see Israel’s recent activity in the E1 sector as an attempt to cut off access to Jerusalem from the West Bank by surrounding it with settlements.
Later that month, activists set up an encampment of four tents and a structure under construction to protest against Israel’s intention to confiscate land near Beit Iksa northwest of Jerusalem, naming it Bab al-karama, or “Gate of Dignity”.
Both encampments were later removed by the Israeli military which occupies those parts of the West bank.
Palestinians and activists were on February 2 forcefully removed from a new camp near a West Bank village, after a third attempt at the novel form of protest against Israeli settlement.
With additional reporting by Al Jazeera’s Renee Lewis.