Gov’t acknowledges allowing wildcat construction in order to legalize Homesh outpost

State defends move by arguing yeshiva was moved off private land; troops hurl stun grenade at left-wing activists trying to reach site, setting Palestinian farmland on fire

Left-wing activists marching toward Homesh, July 7, 2023, holding a sign reading 'Until Homesh is dismantled' in Hebrew and Arabic. (Courtesy Peace Now)
Left-wing activists marching toward Homesh, July 7, 2023, holding a sign reading 'Until Homesh is dismantled' in Hebrew and Arabic. (Courtesy Peace Now)

The government on Friday acknowledged for the first time that it allowed illegal construction to take place at Homesh, as the IDF barred hundreds of left-wing activists from reaching the illegal outpost as part of a demonstration calling for its dismantlement.

Responding to a High Court of Justice petition, the government stated that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had ordered the army to allow the illegal construction at Homesh in late May. The site in the northern West Bank has long hosted a makeshift yeshiva, which was established on private Palestinian land.

To legalize the outpost, settler activists moved a caravan onto an adjacent hilltop determined to be on state land and started operating the yeshiva from there instead. The Israel Defense Forces initially moved to block the construction as it was being conducted without the necessary permits, but Gallant ordered the military to stand down.

The Yesh Din rights group that filed the High Court petition sent Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara a letter urging her to open a criminal probe against Gallant and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of settlement affairs. Baharav-Miara has so far held off on such a move.

In its response to the High Court petition, the government argued that though the transfer of the yeshiva may have been illegal, Palestinian farmers can now access their land where the old Homesh yeshiva used to be located. This is not actually the case though, since an IDF checkpoint has been established outside the outpost continues to prevent Palestinians from reaching their lands.

While the government in its High Court response confirmed its intention to legalize the outpost on which the Homesh yeshiva sits, it will likely run into difficulty given that the access road still sits on private Palestinian land.

Construction is carried out at the illegal West Bank outpost of Homesh, May 29, 2023. (Flash90)

A dozen or so students bunking at a nearby settlement have been using that road each morning to reach the yeshiva and take it at night when they leave.

Still, the government in its High Court response said that the transfer of the yeshiva “significantly minimizes the trespassing onto private property.”

Yesh Din slammed the government response, saying the state violated its explicit commitment to the court not to seek to establish a permanent settlement at Homesh, which was evacuated along with several other northern West Bank communities as part of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

“The state’s response amounts to the implementation of its policy of annexation and apartheid. As the political echelon cooperates with an act of criminality, the bureaucrats go out of their way to reward criminals and establish a permanent settlement on the lands of the [Palestinian] village of Burka while completely ignoring the property rights and security of the Palestinian landowners,” Yesh Din said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office told the Biden administration that it would not seek to establish a residential settlement in Homesh, rather is merely seeking to legalize the yeshiva there, though coalition lawmakers have stated that the yeshiva legalization is only the first step in restoring an entire community to the northern West Bank hilltop.

Following the 2005 dismantlement of Homesh, settlers set up a makeshift yeshiva that has since been demolished and reestablished repeatedly in the years that followed. After a Palestinian gunman killed Yehuda Dimentman, a student at the  yeshiva, in late 2021, settler activists have increasingly pressured the government to legalize the outpost.

While most of the international community considers all settlements illegal, Israel differentiates between settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.

However, outposts are sometimes established with the state’s tacit approval, and successive governments have sought to legalize at least some of the 100-plus unrecognized communities as a result.

Also on Friday, the IDF blocked several hundred left-wing activists from marching toward Homesh in the northern West Bank, violently dispersing the group calling for the dismantlement of the illegal outpost.

Participants in the demonstration organized by the Peace Now settlement watchdog arrived near the Shavei Shomron settlement and sought to walk several kilometers north to Homesh. The group said it informed the IDF ahead of time of the planned demonstration. However, Central Command chief Yehuda Fox ruled Friday that the demonstration would not be approved, citing security concerns.

Roughly a kilometer into the march, participants were stopped by IDF troops who handed them a military order signed by Fox, which stated that the area they were seeking to reach had been temporarily declared a closed military zone.

The marchers sought to go around the soldiers, walking through Palestinian olive groves. In order to disperse them, soldiers hurled stun grenades. However, they sparked a fire in the fields, torching an acre’s-worth of crops.

Blasting Fox’s decision to block the march, Peace Now said in a statement that “peace-seeking Israelis are held back by the army with severe violence, while the violent criminals from the Homesh outpost who looted private lands and carry out atrocities against Palestinians are allowed to roam freely and receive VIP treatment.”

“[The IDF] is letting the vandals from Homesh enter the area, even though it’s against the law, but they’re not letting us,” tweeted Joint List MK Offer Cassif, who had joined the demonstration. “This is what the occupation looks like.”

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