Hundreds sneak into evacuated settlement, call on government to let them stay

Demonstration comes as Netanyahu continues to block legislation allowing resettlement of northern West Bank communities emptied along with Gaza in 2005 disengagement

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Settlers visit the evacuated settlement of Sa-Nur on July 24, 2018. (Homesh T'cheela)
Settlers visit the evacuated settlement of Sa-Nur on July 24, 2018. (Homesh T'cheela)

Some 200 Israeli activists surreptitiously entered the evacuated settlement of Sa-Nur in the northern West Bank under the cover of darkness early Tuesday in a symbolic protest of the government’s refusal to pass legislation allowing them to return permanently.

The group was made up of former residents of Sa-Nur and Homesh, which — with two other northern West Bank settlements, Ganim and Kadim — were evacuated along with the Jewish settlements of the Gaza Strip in 2005 as part of Israel’s so-called disengagement plan. The evacuees were joined by supporters including Jewish Home lawmakers Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Bezalel Smotrich.

The visit was not coordinated with the military, and IDF troops arrived at the hilltop community Tuesday morning to alert the settlers that they were trespassing. The settlers notified the troops that they planned to leave later that afternoon.

Settler youth dance in the evacuated settlement of Sa-Nur on July 24, 2018. (Homesh T’cheela)

Under the 2005 Disengagement Plan Implementation Law, the presence of Israeli civilians on the ruins of the four settlements is illegal.

While prime minister Ariel Sharon, under whose watch the disengagement was carried out. cleared the northern West Bank communities as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinian Authority, the IDF has still prevented Palestinians from reaching those hilltops.

Last year, Moalem-Refaeli introduced legislation that would dramatically amend the original 2005 law.

While the text of the bill would broadly permit Israeli entry to areas that were relinquished, with Gaza under Hamas control the legislation relates in effect only to the four settlements in the northern West Bank that were evacuated in the same period.

But while the legislation has earned the support of 12 coalition lawmakers from various parties, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blocked it from coming to a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation a total of 13 times this year.

Settlers drape Israeli flags on a building in the evacuated settlement of Sa-Nur on July 24, 2018. (Homesh T’cheela)

On a number of occasions, settlers have attempted to return en masse to Sa-Nur. In July 2015 security forces removed some 200 protesters from the hilltop after they entered to mark the 10th anniversary of its evacuation.

Unlike Sa-nur, nearby Homesh has had a near daily — albeit illegal — presence of settlers since the disengagement. Following the 2005 evacuation, a yeshiva was established on the Homesh ruins and due to minimal IDF enforcement, some 25 students have been ascending the hilltop each day from their caravan dorms in the nearby Shavei Shomron settlement.

“We believe that on the 13th anniversary of our expulsion the right thing to do is return home and renew our connection with this place along with our wives and children,” said former Homesh resident Benny Gal.

“From here we call on the prime minister and the ministers of government to annul the Disengagement Law,” he added.

Moalem-Refaeli said she was particularly moved by how the residents were “lighting up the night in Sa-Nur after the darkness of expulsion.”

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