In a submission to the High Court of Justice on Sunday, the government acknowledged that the West Bank settlement of Homesh is illegal and should be evacuated, but did not set a timeline for doing so and asked the court not to intervene.
The submission came after the left-wing group Yesh Din filed a petition earlier this year forcing the government to explain why it allowed settlers to establish a near-permanent presence in Homesh, despite that being explicitly illegal under the disengagement law. During the 2005 disengagement, Israel evicted Homesh along with several other settlements in the in the northern West Bank and all of the settlements in the Gaza Strip.
“The place must be evacuated,” the state’s response acknowledged.
But it also maintained that the government conducts a “weekly situational assessment” under the auspices of Defense Minister Benny Gantz, during which it continues to discuss a timeline for evacuating the outpost. Any decision to enforce the law should be made at the discretion of the defense minister, it said.
“Determined enforcement actions are taken against any new construction or disturbance of the peace in the Homesh area,” the government submission added.
The response also claimed that the military prevents most Israelis from entering the illegal settlement.
The government said the issue has grown increasingly fraught in the past six months, following a terror attack just outside Homesh, in which one Israeli settler — Yehuda Dimentman — was shot dead, leading to increased tensions and violence in the area. Settler leaders and right-wing politicians have called for the outpost to be retroactively legalized as a form of retaliation for the deadly attack.
The government response came ahead of a Thursday High Court hearing on the Yesh Din petition and the legal imperative to clear the flashpoint hilltop, which over the past 15 years has retained a settler presence, centered around a yeshiva there.
“The security forces are actively working to prevent Israelis from entering the area,” the response read, while also acknowledging that until a full “evacuation is completed,” a “small number of Israelis connected to the yeshiva” would be allowed entry.
A visit to the site last week by The Times of Israel confirmed that while the military maintains a checkpoint to stop some Jewish Israelis from traveling the road to Homesh, it does not stop foot traffic, and several yeshiva students trek to the outpost daily.
Yesh Din, which opposes Israel’s ongoing military control of the West Bank, lambasted the state’s response, calling for the government to dismantle the illegal outpost immediately.
“Despite the fact that the State of Israel acknowledges unequivocally that the Homesh settlement is an illegal outpost that must be evicted, it is not evicting it. The decision to choose the timing of the eviction is a mistake — Homesh must be evicted immediately regardless of any political consideration. Despite the state’s claim, it is important to note that military forces are allowing the presence of settlers in the Homesh settlement,” the organization said.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now, which on Saturday attempted to bring bulldozers to Homesh to raze the site and was halted by the military, said the state’s response constituted “a new record in absurdity.”
“Instead of upholding the law and evacuating the violent gang of criminals from Homesh yesterday, the government keeps guard over it and rewards criminality and violence,” the group said in a statement.