Gantz, IDF warn settler activists against ‘illegal’ bid to form West Bank outposts

Defense minister says there will be ‘strict enforcement’ against plan by Nachala Settlement Movement to send out hundreds of activists to establish 3 new outposts on Wednesday

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

Settler activists take part in a protest march against then-US president Donald Trump's 'Deal of the Century' and an attempt to establish a new settlement called 'Maalot Halhul' near Hebron, June 30, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Settler activists take part in a protest march against then-US president Donald Trump's 'Deal of the Century' and an attempt to establish a new settlement called 'Maalot Halhul' near Hebron, June 30, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police issued statements Tuesday warning Israelis against participating in an initiative scheduled for Wednesday that aims to establish three illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank.

The Nachala Settlement Movement organization has been planning for months to create new outposts and has recruited hundreds and possibly thousands of activists to participate in this operation.

According to a statement from Gantz’s office, the minister was briefed on the operation on Monday and gave instructions on Tuesday “to issue a clear message to Israeli citizens who intend to take part in the program that these are illegal activities that the security services are preparing to thwart.”

The statement noted specifically that “alongside the continued construction and strengthening of legal settlements,” there will be “strict enforcement” against the plans to establish new illegal outposts.

The police and the IDF also addressed the planned operation on Tuesday, saying in a statement that establishing settlements in the West Bank without authorization was illegal and that specially designated forces would operate to thwart “any illegal activity.”

The statement said that the IDF, Israel Police and Border Police were preparing for Nachala’s operation “on the roads, at checkpoints and at central locations in Judea and Samaria to protect security, the law and public order in the area.” The statement referred to the West Bank by its biblical name, commonly used in Hebrew.

Two MKs nevertheless spoke out against Gantz’s stance, and that of the security services, and encouraged the activists to undertake their mission regardless of the warnings that such activity was illegal.

Likud MK May Golan wrote on Facebook that she was “giving encouragement to the hundreds of settlers in [the] Judea, Benjamin, and Samaria [regions] to arrive tomorrow to the three settlement locations,” adding that it was “sad and outrageous that the defense minister is doing everything to thwart Jewish settlement in the State of Israel.”

Right-wing activists from Nachala Settlement Movement demonstrate how to build a temporary structure at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, as part of a protest calling to establish new settlement outposts in the West Bank, on July 12, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

MK Orit Struck of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party called on the general public and its leadership “not to be deterred by this show of force” by the security services “and not to back down in the face of this pressure.”

Added Struck, “Much of this land remains to be inherited, this is the inheritance of our forefathers and it is our right and even our obligation to settle it.”

Nachala itself denounced Gantz, saying that he has done nothing to prevent illegal Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank but was actively preventing Jewish settlement in the territory.

“We expect that the defense minister and the government of Israel to announce a change in policy today, allowing the Jewish people to fulfill its historic and eternal obligation of building up the Land of Israel,” the organization said.

Nachala has carried out extensive preparations for its upcoming operations, including a massive fundraising drive and the purchase of kits to assist activists once they reach the designated sites for the new outposts.

According to the organization, its crowdfunding drive raised over NIS 5 million ($1.45 million) from over 8,000 donors.

Some 3,000 kits have been prepared, consisting of shade canopies, solar-powered lights, 20-liter water jerrycans, phone chargers and portable latrines.

The “core groups” formed to establish each outpost have received “practical briefings” to instruct them on how best to create their new settlement, the organization said.

Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich (center) visits at the illegal Israeli outpost of Evyatar, in the West Bank, together with Nachala Settlement Movement leader director Tzvi Elimelech Sharbaf, on June 27, 2021. Nachala organized the establishment of the illegal outpost of Evyatar in May 2021 (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

There are 28 such groups, although only three are set to embark on the Wednesday operation, according to Nachala.

Nachala’s campaign has been endorsed by Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, his fellow party MK Itamar Ben Gvir, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Aryeh Stern, Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu, several mayors of West Bank settlements, and other public figures.

The left-wing Peace Now organization has established its own unit of activists ahead of Nachala’s operation and intends to send them into the West Bank on Wednesday to stymie the effort to create new outposts.

“The establishment of new terrorist outposts, accompanied by a public campaign and backed by the leadership of the messianic right, is a well-planned attack against Israel’s interests,” the organization said on Tuesday.

“Settler violence will automatically come from these outposts against IDF soldiers, left-wing activists and Palestinians, which will lead to the expropriation of Palestinian land. We will not let this happen.”

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