At ruins of evacuated settlement, hundreds demand return
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At ruins of evacuated settlement, hundreds demand return

Amid picnics and inflatable castles, settlers call to resurrect four northern West Bank communities evacuated as part of Gaza disengagement

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers at a ceremony at the evacuated Sa-nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)
Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers at a ceremony at the evacuated Sa-nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)

SA-NUR, West Bank — Hundreds gathered on the ruins of the evacuated Sa-nur settlement Thursday, calling on the government to allow Israelis to return to the West Bank communities demolished on the sidelines of the 2005 Gaza disengagement.

“We have come here today, 12 years since we were expelled from our homes, to cry out to our government — the most nationalist in the history of the state — do not stand idly by!” Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, who lived in Sa-nur before the withdrawal, shouted from the stage. “Don’t give up on the historic opportunity to correct this injustice!”

Along with the broader Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip, the government also cleared the northern West Bank settlements of Kadim, Ganim, Homesh and Sa-nur. Now, under the 2005 Disengagement Plan Implementation Law, the presence of Israeli civilians on the ruins of the four settlements is illegal.

The Samaria Regional Council, which organized the “protest rally,” said they had coordinated the mass arrival with the army ahead of time under the understanding that the visitors would return from the hilltop by sundown.

While Dagan shared the stage with 11 lawmakers from the Likud and Jewish Home factions, attendees, mostly women and children, picnicked on mats under a large canopy protecting them from the hot August sun. Amid the fiery speeches, pianist Yonatan Razel performed an interactive concert for those of the younger crowd not busy bouncing in the two inflatable castles brought in for the event.

“We want to show that these were lively communities that were destroyed, and that this liveliness can easily be restored,” Dagan told The Times of Israel.

In July 2015 security forces removed some 200 protesters from the site of Sa-Nur after they entered the ruins of the settlement to mark 10 years since its evacuation.

Among the parliamentarians present Thursday were Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and David Bitan, co-sponsors of a bill to repeal the law preventing resettlement of Sa-Nur and the other evacuated West Bank communities, which the Samaria Council chairman praised.

Speaking with The Times of Israel prior to taking the stage, Bitan explained that the four settlements had been evacuated solely due to US pressure at the time. “Unlike with Gaza where we evacuated everyone, these four settlements are in [Israeli controlled] Area C and the army still operates there,” the coalition chairman said. “Therefore, there is no reason why Israelis should not be able to return.”

Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers at a ceremony at the evacuated Sa-nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)
Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers at a ceremony at the evacuated Sa-nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)

“The disengagement was a mistake. There was no justification for the destruction of the settlements in northern Samaria, and there is no justification for them not to be re-established,” Moalem-Refaeli said.

While both lawmakers recognized that passing the legislation would be an uphill battle, each pointed out that the government’s current right-wing credentials should put the bill’s ratification in as good of a position as ever. “If the prime minister does not order [Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked to remove it from the legislative agenda at the last minute, it will pass,” said Moalem-Refaeli confidently.

The protest-rally was heavily attended by former residents of Homesh and Sa-nur. “We miss this land. We miss our home,” said San-nur native Noam Waldman. “It is only a matter of time before we return, but when we do, it will be a declaration to the gentiles of our strength,” he added.

Former Homesh resident Menorah Hazani stuck a similar tone in explaining why she believed the disengagement had been a mistake. “When you evict Jews from their homes in the land of Israel, it hurts the entire world,” she said. “In order for the world to be repaired, we must return home.”

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich (blue shirt) sits among the hundrds who gathered for a ceremony at the evacuated Sa-nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich (blue shirt) sits among the hundrds who gathered for a ceremony at the evacuated Sa-nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)

Unlike Sa-nur, nearby Homesh has had a near daily — albeit illegal — presence of settlers since the disengagement. Following the 2005 evacuation, a yeshiva was established on the Homesh ruins and due to minimal IDF enforcement, some 25 students have been ascending the hilltop each day from their caravan dorms in the nearby Shavei Shomron settlement. Dagan hailed the young pupils for their devotion “in the rain, sleet, and snow.”

The Samaria Council chairman concluded his remarks by pointing to the building next to the stage, one of the few structures still standing at the site 12 years after the evacuation. Unable to transport the community synagogue with them but still hoping to preserve it, Sa-nur residents had it filled with sand and sealed shut.

“You see, everything here is ready,” Dagan proclaimed to the cheering crowd. “The government just needs to make the right decision and we can return and pray here once again.”

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