Over 1,500 gather at illegal Homesh West Bank outpost for Tu Bishvat seder

Rabbis, yeshiva students join ceremony; IDF says it cleared out the participants after a number of hours; government has vowed to legalize wildcat settlement

Over 1,500 people participate in a Tu Bishvat seder at Homesh, an illegal outpost in the northern West Bank, February 5, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Over 1,500 people participate in a Tu Bishvat seder at Homesh, an illegal outpost in the northern West Bank, February 5, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Over 1,500 people held a ceremony on Sunday for the Jewish festival of Tu Bishvat at the illegal West Bank outpost Homesh, despite the military declaring the area off-limits to Israeli civilians.

Participants — including rabbis and students of the Homesh Yeshiva — arrived by bus at a nearby army checkpoint, then walked to the wildcat settlement without being stopped by the military.

“With God’s help, we will soon announce the reversal of the Disengagement Law,” said Shmuel Vendy, head of the yeshiva, referring to the legislation that ordered the razing of the settlement in 2005 as part of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank.

“There is no day more appropriate than today, Tu Bishvat — a festival in the Land of Israel — to invite the broader public. And I can say that over the past two days, people and yeshivas have been ringing my telephone nonstop and requesting to come to give support,” he said.

The Israel Defense Forces said ahead of the event that the area was a closed military zone, and that it intended to evacuate the participants.

The outpost was cleared out by midnight at the conclusion of the meal, a military spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

Ahead of the event, Palestinians hurled stones at buses that were taking settlers to the site. One Israeli bus driver was lightly hurt and treated at the scene by military medics, the Rescuers Without Borders emergency service said.

Footage from the scene showed a window by the driver’s seat damaged by the stones.

Tu Bishvat, or the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, is also called the new year for trees and is marked by a festive meal featuring fruits and nuts.

The unauthorized West Bank settlement outpost of Homesh, November 17, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Homesh consists mainly of several makeshift buildings that have been used to house a yeshiva established on the grounds of the settlement that was razed in 2005 following the disengagement.

A law passed ahead of the so-called disengagement barred Israeli civilian presence at Homesh and three other northern West Bank settlements that were evacuated at the time, but the law has rarely been enforced, allowing ultra-nationalist settlers to trek up the hilltop every day for yeshiva studies.

Homesh returned to national headlines in December 2021 when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on yeshiva students descending from the hilltop, killing one. Settler leaders demanded the government legalize the outpost in response to the terror attack.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government announced in January that it intends to legalize Homesh, making it a recognized settlement, even though the High Court of Justice has ruled that the yeshiva sits on private Palestinian property.

Following the government’s decision, the High Court demanded the government explain why the illegal settlement should not be evacuated. The court also demanded the government explain why it should not take the necessary steps to grant the Palestinian landowners regular access to their land, something they have been systematically denied for years due to the presence of the outpost and restrictions imposed by the IDF.

The government’s move to legalize the outpost drew condemnation from the United States, which decried the outpost as illegal “even under Israeli law.”

While 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 permits, often on private Palestinian land. However, outposts are sometimes erected with the state’s tacit approval, and successive governments have sought to legalize at least some of the unrecognized neighborhoods as a result.

Emanuel Fabiab, Jacob Magid and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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