Illegal West Bank outpost evacuated and demolished, a day after settlers moved in

Ministerial committee approves advancing legislation that would repeal clauses of the 2005 disengagement, aimed at legalizing wildcat outpost of Homesh

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

The illegal settlement outpost of Gofna on Sunday morning, February 12, 2023, before it was evacuated and demolished by Border Police and Civil Administration staff. (Courtesy)
The illegal settlement outpost of Gofna on Sunday morning, February 12, 2023, before it was evacuated and demolished by Border Police and Civil Administration staff. (Courtesy)

Several dozen settlers were removed Sunday from an illegal settlement outpost in the northern West Bank by Border Police and Civil Administration forces, after the activists took up residence at the site on Saturday night.

The evacuation is the latest in a series of similar incidents in which wildcat settler outposts have been demolished by security forces, despite the pro-settlement agenda of much of the current coalition.

The outpost, dubbed Gofna, was first established in July last year, just outside the Nahliel settlement, during a large campaign by the Nachala organization to set up several new settlements, but it was evacuated almost immediately by security forces.

According to Gofna settler activists, several buildings, including some made of unsecured cinderblocks, were constructed at the site overnight Saturday, with six families and several dozen youths taking up residence.

The settlers were evacuated by Border Police personnel on Sunday morning, and the buildings at the outpost were demolished.

The activists alleged that the Border Police officers had acted violently during the evacuation and that the demolition had been carried out without the required military orders. A Border Police spokesman said, however, that there had been “no unusual incidents” during the operation and that no arrests had been made.

Settler activists dance in celebration at the establishment of the illegal settlement outpost of Gofna on Sunday morning, February 12, 2023, before it was evacuated and demolished by Border Police and Civil Administration staff. (Courtesy)

A source in the Defense Ministry added that the activists had sought to physically prevent the security forces from removing them and demolishing the structures, and had also hurled insults at the Border Police and Civil Administration personnel carrying out the evacuation.

Talia Farkash, one of the Gofna activists, said one of the motivations for establishing Gofna on Saturday night had been the Jerusalem ramming terror attack on Friday, in which three Israelis were killed including two young boys, and the recent spate of Palestinian terror attacks more broadly, including one that killed seven people several weeks ago.

“Ten people have been murdered in Jerusalem in recent weeks. We had no doubt that this outpost should be established as soon as possible to strengthen Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria,” said Farkash before the evacuation, using the biblical term for the West Bank commonly used in Hebrew.

“We expect to get the full support of the members of the right-wing government who need to understand that when murderous terrorism raises its head, settlement outposts ate the fitting answer.”

A spokeswoman for the Nachala organization added that “the terrorism is due to the fact that [the Palestinians] do not want us here in this land, so building settlements is of particular importance in response to terrorist attacks.”

During the evacuation, the activists who set up Gofna called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to “halt the left-wing policies of [former defense minister Benny] Gantz” and prevent the evacuation of the new outpost.

Parts of Disengagement Law repealed

Separately, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted Sunday to approve the passage of a bill to repeal clauses of the 2005 Disengagement Law, which had led to the evacuation of four settlements in the northern West Bank along with all the Israeli settlements and military presence in the Gaza Strip.

The bill, which only relates to the parts of the law pertaining to the northern West Bank, is key to the current government’s goal of legalizing the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh and a yeshiva that has been built there, which activists have tried repeatedly to reestablish since 2005.

Right-wing MKs, including former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, visit the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh in 2022. (Roi Hadi)

The legislation — submitted by the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, with the backing of National Missions Minister Orit Strock — will now move to the Knesset plenum for a preliminary reading on Wednesday. It will need three additional votes to pass into law.

The legislative push comes after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked Israeli leaders to “pause” actions such as settlement construction in order to reduce tensions with the Palestinians.

Homesh, inhabited by several dozen yeshiva students and teachers, is built on private Palestinian land and is one of the settlements evacuated under the Disengagement Law.

Last month, the government informed the High Court that it had reversed the previous government’s commitment to evacuate Homesh and instead seeks to legalize the outpost by repealing the relevant clauses of the Disengagement law.

The state was responding to a petition by the anti-settlements Yesh Din organization, which demands the outpost be removed and the Palestinian residents of the nearby village of Burqa be given access to their private land, on which the outpost sits.

Although the government hopes the repeal of the Disengagement Law will facilitate the legalization of Homesh, the High Court justices expressed doubt that the settlement could be legalized, even were the Disengagement Law to be amended, given that it is built largely on private Palestinian land.

The left-wing Yesh Din organization condemned the approval of the bill on Sunday, saying it was designed to “make the theft of land at Homesh kosher” and adding that “canceling the Disengagement Law won’t change the status of the land as private land and won’t legalize the outpost.”

Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich, right, and MK Orit Strock in a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 1, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich welcomed the committee’s decision, hailing “an important day on which the government of Israel is moving the ship [forward] and supporting settlements.”

Shlomo Neeman, chairman of the Yesha Council settlement umbrella organization and head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, said the Disengagement Law had been “a black stain in the lawbook of the State of Israel” and “a mark of disgrace on the Israeli justice system, which allowed it to happen without hesitation.”

“This abominable plan uprooted us from our land and brought us missiles and the threat of missiles [from Gaza] into the heart of the country, continuing to this day,” said Neeman.

Strock said, “For the first time since the expulsion [of Gaza settlers], the retreat and the destruction of settlements, the government of Israel voted in favor of rectifying the sin of the disengagement.”

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