Palestinians return to land where settlement stood

Palestinians return to land where settlement stood

Homesh was evacuated in 2005 but periodically resettled by Israelis; returning residents reportedly carry anti-Semitic signs

The settlement of Homesh in December 2005. (photo credit: CC BY Neria Harua/Wikipedia)
The settlement of Homesh in December 2005. (photo credit: CC BY Neria Harua/Wikipedia)

After a long court battle, Palestinian farmers have reclaimed land they lost to the Israeli settlement of Homesh in the 1970s, a rare legal victory their lawyer said illustrates that Israel’s settlement enterprise is reversible.

In the 1970s, Israel seized several hundred acres from residents of the West Bank village of Burka to build Homesh. The settlement, along with three others in the West Bank, was razed in 2005, in connection with Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip at the time, although groups of settler activists periodically set up temporary residence at the site.

However, Palestinians were not allowed to return to their lands after the 2005 demolition because the military did not rescind the land seizure order and prevented access to the area, said attorney Michael Sfard.

After more than two years of court petitions, the military agreed several months ago to rescind the seizure order and last week lifted access restrictions, said Sfard of the Israeli rights group Yesh Din.

On Thursday, farmers returned to their land for the first time. “I feel as if I was dead and now I am alive again,” said Fathallah Hajjeh, 64. “I never felt such joy. We are rooted to this land.”

About 500 acres of land were reclaimed, said Emad Saif of the Burka local council.

The return of the land shows that “the settlement project is reversible,” said Sfard.

The returnees waved PLO flags, painted over Jewish symbols on buildings, and carried signs with anti-Semitic images, including one showing a religious Jew with a spear through his head, Israel National News reported.

Since capturing the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel built and expanded settlements. It annexed East Jerusalem, left Gaza unilaterally in 2005, and is negotiating with the Palestinian Authority over the future of the territories, where the Palestinians seek statehood. More than half a million Israelis now live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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