A group of ultra-Orthodox families announced on Tuesday that they have established an illegal settlement outpost in the southern West Bank, close to the Haredi settlement of Metzad.
According to the activists, this is the first outpost to be established by ultra-Orthodox settlers.
There are currently 15 families in residence at the outpost, including some with children, and they have erected at least 15 structures at the site, including a synagogue, yeshiva, and homes.
The outpost, named Derech Emunah, is accessible via a two-minute car ride from Metzad and a subsequent five-minute walk, since the road does not yet reach the outpost.
Moshe Rotman, one of the outpost’s founders and organizers, said the structures were built late Sunday night and within two and a half hours by the activists, along with dozens of yeshiva students who volunteered to help.
Electricity is provided by a generator and Rotman says there is already running water at the outpost.
The residents of Derech Emunah are mostly from Metzad, which lies within the boundaries of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, but others come from Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, and Beitar.
Rotman listed several reasons why the activists had decided to establish the new outpost, including the religious commandment in Jewish law to settle the land of Israel.
“The establishment of Derech Emunah is designed to increase awareness within the ultra-Orthodox community of the religious commandment of settling the land, as well as showing that the housing crisis in the community can be resolved through settlement construction in Judea and Samaria,” Rotman said, using the Biblical terms for the West Bank.
He insisted that the families in Derech Emunah were not from the fringes of the ultra-Orthodox community but rather its mainstream, including men who had studied at the prestigious ultra-Orthodox yeshivas of Ponevezh and Hebron.
Rotman described the potential for increasing numbers of ultra-Orthodox families to move to West Bank settlements as a “dormant volcano,” both due to the lack of affordable housing for the community, as well as the inherent settler idealism of many members of ultra-Orthodox society.
The two largest West Bank settlements, by a considerable margin, are both ultra-Orthodox cities — Modiin Illit with some 82,000 residents, followed by Beitar Illit with 63,000 residents. The next largest settlements are Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel with 38,000 and 20,000 residents respectively.
Rotman also said the new outpost was built in protest of what he described as selective enforcement by the government against illegal construction in the territory.
Settler activists claim the army and police are quick to evacuate and destroy illegal Jewish construction in Area C of the West Bank but turn a blind eye to illegal Palestinian construction in the same territory.
The government very rarely grants construction permits for Palestinians in Area C, but approves permits for several thousand housing units in the settlements every year.
Asked how the activists who have established Derech Emunah could justify breaking the law by setting up an illegal outpost, Rotman asserted that since the law is enforced selectively it was invalid and that the settlement activity was therefore legitimate.
The Peace Now organization denounced the establishment of the new outpost and called on the government to dismantle it immediately.
“The security forces must show zero tolerance to the outpost criminals, whether they are ultra-Orthodox… or just regular criminals,” the organization said in a statement to the press.
The group called on Defense Minister Benny Gantz to order the evacuation and destruction of the outpost immediately. Failure to do so, it said, would demonstrate that he is seeking to appease his new political partners — Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and former religious services minister MK Matan Kahana — who support settlement construction and expansion, “at the expense of Israel’s interests, security, and a two-state solution.”