Homesh rabbi indicted for residing in illegal settlement outpost

Rabbi Elishama Cohen, who heads the makeshift West Bank yeshiva, charged for violating the Disengagement Law and spending time in Homesh without permission

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

In this undated photo, head of the makeshift Homesh yeshiva Rabbi Elishama Cohen is seen at an inauguration ceremony for a Torah scroll in the Homesh illegal outpost. (Courtesy Homesh Yeshiva)
In this undated photo, head of the makeshift Homesh yeshiva Rabbi Elishama Cohen is seen at an inauguration ceremony for a Torah scroll in the Homesh illegal outpost. (Courtesy Homesh Yeshiva)

Rabbi Elishama Cohen, who heads a makeshift yeshiva in the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh, has been indicted for illegally staying in the outpost in violation of the 2005 Disengagement Law.

The indictment comes as the far-right Religious Zionism party and its political allies are negotiating for the repeal of the 2005 law that led to the evacuation and demolition of four settlements in the northern West Bank, including Homesh, along with all the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The Disengagement Law makes it illegal for Israelis to enter and reside in those areas without authorization. Repealing it would abolish those restrictions and pave the way for the eventual reconstruction of the evacuated settlements.

The indictment against Cohen states that he entered the Homesh outpost on November 15 without having received authorization to do so, and notes that the prosecution may request he serve prison time for the offense if convicted.

Cohen was previously arrested in December 2021 for the same reason and was questioned by the police at the Ariel police station in May. He was, however, never charged in that incident.

In a statement to the press on Tuesday, Cohen described the indictment as “a mark of Cain against the Israel Police, the State Attorney’s Office and the government of Israel.”

Rabbi Elishama Cohen (second from left) after being questioned by the police for allegedly residing in the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh without authorization at the Ariel police station together with Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan (left), Samaria Chief Rabbi Elyakim Levanon (second from right) and Rabbi Tzion Twill (right), on May 31, 2022. (Courtesy Settlement of Homesh)

“We expect that the coming government will remove the disgrace of the Disengagement Law from Israel’s statute book in its first days — that is what we have been promised and we expect it to happen,” the rabbi said.

Twelve MKs issued statements denouncing the indictment against Cohen, including former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and other MKs from Likud, Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit, almost all of whom said they would work toward the repeal of the Disengagement Law.

Since Homesh was first evacuated in 2005, settler activists have repeatedly returned to the hilltop to maintain the yeshiva there. Although it is illegal to sleep overnight in the outpost, students of the Homesh yeshiva are generally allowed by the IDF to walk back and forth every day to the hilltop and study there.

Yehuda Dimentman. (Courtesy)

In December 2021, Yehuda Dimentman, a student at the yeshiva, was killed by Palestinian terrorists who fired on the car he was traveling in as he was leaving the outpost.

Settler leaders and right-wing politicians subsequently called for the outpost to be retroactively legalized in response to the attack.

The state has previously told the High Court of Justice that it intends to once again evacuate Homesh, following a 2019 petition by the Yesh Din organization claiming that Palestinians who own the land on which the outpost is situated were denied access to their land by the yeshiva and settlers who study and illegally reside there.

The High Court in June told the state to provide it with an update regarding the situation on the hilltop by August, but the government collapsed before that date.

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