JERUSALEM, Israel -- Almost seven years after the Israeli government uprooted nearly 10,000 Israelis from their homes in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, it's decided to remove another 30 families from their homes in a neighborhood in the community of biblical Beit El.
This time the dispute is a legal one over whether or not the developer actually bought the land from its rightful owner. And the move is pitting Israelis against Israelis at the beginning of what could be a long, hot summer.
Last month, Israel's High Court ruled in favor of a petition submitted by the ultra-left-wing Peace Now organization, alleging the five apartment buildings in Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood were constructed on private Palestinian land. The court ordered the 30 families -- some of whom had lived there for more than a decade -- to leave by July 1. The ruling also called for the demolition of three other Samarian communities, Migron, Givat Assaf and Amona.
On Tuesday morning, the government began moving the first 15 families into temporary trailers that had been hooked up to water, power and telephone lines. Although the families are not putting up a physical fight, they say they are not going willingly.
"They are trying to paint a picture as if our expulsion is a voluntary evacuation, but it is not," Harel Kohen, spokesman for the neighborhood, told Israel's Channel 2 on Monday. "Even if we decided not to be violent during the eviction, this is not a voluntary evacuation but an expulsion for all intents and purposes."
Early Tuesday, Beit El Rabbi Zalman Melamed led morning prayers in Ulpana, later saying they would dedicate a new neighborhood, two-and-a-half to three times larger, on Tuesday afternoon.
"A feeling of mourning and anger hung over the neighborhood," israel national news correspondent Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu wrote. Parents took their children away so they wouldn't have to watch government officials removing their possessions from their homes, he reported.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry issued a statement Tuesday morning as the "operation" began.
"The operation is being carried out in full coordination and with the agreement of community leaders and the residents themselves," the statement read, noting that more than "100 Defense Ministry employees and contractors" were taking part.
"A team composed of employees and contractors has been assigned to each family. The Defense Ministry will provide full assistance to the families during the operation and during their integration into the temporary neighborhood," the statement concluded.
In early June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to build 300 new homes to replace the 30 that would be destroyed, saying the move would strengthen the "settlement enterprise."
Beit El Council head Moshe Rosenbaum said residents agreed to leave peacefully based on "some very significant achievements that will cause leftist organizations to think twice before running to the High Court in an attempt to destroy more homes and neighborhoods," the Israeli daily Yisrael HaYom reported.
"The prime minister is also committed to building the new homes," Rosenbaum said. "The leftist organizations will have to consider the fact that every time they try to bring about the destruction of a home, we will build 10 others in its place with the government's approval. We expect the construction work to begin within the next few months," he said.
The Jewish developer of the Ulpana neighbor insists that he bought the land from Palestinians in a nearby village years ago, but he didn't register the sale because Palestinian Arabs convicted of selling land to Jews face the death penalty. Peace Now petitioned the high court after other Palestinians said the land belonged to them and they never sold it.