Activists use ersatz settlement to show they’re ‘willing and ready’ to resettle Gaza

Right-wing, religious activists have established and rebuilt a proto-settlement on border with Strip three times since June 25: ‘We’d be happy to do this in Gaza given the chance’

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Right-wing, religious activists build the Elei Aza dwelling close to the border with Gaza, as part of an effort to demonstrate to the government that there are people willing to begin establishing Israeli settlements inside Gaza itself. (Courtesy Elei Aza activists)
Right-wing, religious activists build the Elei Aza dwelling close to the border with Gaza, as part of an effort to demonstrate to the government that there are people willing to begin establishing Israeli settlements inside Gaza itself. (Courtesy Elei Aza activists)

A group of religious right-wing activists has engaged over the last two weeks with establishing an ersatz Gaza settlement close to Israel’s border with Gaza but inside Israel’s borders.

The goal of the endeavor, according to one of the organizers, is to demonstrate to the government that there is a concrete willingness among such activists to establish new Israeli settlements within Gaza itself, by being physically present on the ground right next to the coastal enclave.

“We are showing that there are people who are ready to do this, we’d be happy to do this inside Gaza if we had the chance,” said Yosef Yitzhak De Bresser, one of two main activists behind the initiative.

Prominent figures inside the government, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir are strongly in favor of establishing Israeli settlements inside Gaza, and have advocated for such measures publicly.

Elei Aza (Toward Gaza), as the proto-settlement has been dubbed, was first established on June 25 just a few kilometers from the Gaza border between the communities of Yad Mordechai and Netiv Ha’asara.

It has already been forcibly evacuated twice by Israeli security forces, and rebuilt twice by the approximately 20 hardcore activists who established it, similar to the modus operandi of radical settlers in the West Bank.

Right-wing, religious activists meet in their rudimentary new dwelling Elei Aza close to the border with Gaza. (Courtesy Elei Aza activists)

It was most recently demolished on Tuesday morning before being swiftly reestablished that evening.

But the activists have now voluntarily evacuated ahead of what De Bresser said would be a meeting with IDF officials on Friday to potentially find an agreed upon site for the dwelling.

Asked how establishing Elei Aza helps achieve the goal of building settlements inside Gaza, De Bresser said that it demonstrates the political hard right puts its money where its mouth is.

“We wanted to establish a nucleus of activists on the ground to show that we are willing and ready to do this,” he said.

“It creates pressure on the government, on the IDF, the police and the residents of the region, and shows that this is possible, shows that there are people who are ready to do this if we are just given the chance.”

De Bresser has become a full-time activist for several hard right causes since the Hamas-led October 7 atrocities that sparked the war in Gaza.

He has organized and taken part in marches to the Gaza border demanding the resettlement of the territory by Israel, and was one of the activists who managed to break through a border crossing and actually enter the enclave.

According to De Bresser, he’s also organized efforts to block humanitarian aid to Gaza, which right-wing activists and some politicians oppose.

Police prevent activists from blocking trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, in southern Israel, January 29, 2024. (AP/ Tsafrir Abayov)

He estimates that he has been arrested approximately 20 times in the course of these activities.

Asked if the conflict with the Palestinians will not be exacerbated by establishing Israeli settlements in the densely populated Strip, De Bresser said this policy would be to encourage “voluntary” emigration of Gazans from the territory.

“I don’t want to mix the populations, I want to encourage emigration. We need to remove all the population and they want to leave, why prevent them,” he claimed.

“If we continue to give them fuel and provisions, cement and steel, then they won’t want to leave because they’ll be able to rebuild.

“Let’s give them a few hundred dollars so they can have a good new start in Europe.”

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