Three people were arrested as police clashed with left-wing activists gathered ahead of a planned demonstration at the illegal West Bank outpost of Homesh, despite a military ban on the protest taking place.
The wildcat outpost is a symbolic site for the settlement movement that government leaders have vowed to dismantle in accordance with the law.
Hundreds of activists from the Peace Now settlement watchdog group said they planned to go to Homesh on Saturday with bulldozers and destroy the settlement.
Footage posted online from the staging area for the protest in the central city of Rosh Ha’ayin showed scuffles between demonstrators and police officers. It was unclear how they began.
“Any detention or arrest only strengthens our claim: Israelis have nothing to look for in the lands of Burqa, the [Palestinian] village on which the Homesh outpost was built,” Peace Now said in a statement. “The illegal outpost must be evacuated now.”
The left-wing group later said the protest would go ahead, but without the heavy machinery after the drivers of the trucks carrying the bulldozers were among the individuals detained.
במקום לפרק את המאחז האלים בחומש המשטרה מנסה לפרק התנגדות לא אלימה למאחזים
אנחנו לא הולכים עד שחומש לא תפונה. pic.twitter.com/WtGEYdVq3K
— שלום עכשיו (@PeaceNowIL) May 28, 2022
However, police and the Israel Defense Forces blocked the road near the settlement of Kedumim to prevent the protesters from nearing Homesh, the Ynet news site reported.
Police said in a statement that the planned protest by the peace activists was illegal and that while they would allow legal protests to take place, the suspects had “planned to violate public order, violate the Disengagement Law and damage property.”
Police claimed that the arrests of the three were made “in light of the real fear of harm to public safety and security, and due to violent confrontations.”
למקרה שלא ברור – אנחנו רציניים pic.twitter.com/MSOY0Eexoq
— שלום עכשיו (@PeaceNowIL) May 28, 2022
Meretz MK Yair Golan decried the “insane police violence” against the activists.
“Unbelievable. Far-right activists are flocking en masse to bolster illegal activity at Homesh, and police are watching from the sidelines. Activists demanding the rule of law rise up to demonstrate against the illegal activity, and are arrested in insane police violence. What’s going on here?” he tweeted.
The military said Friday that it would not secure the Peace Now protest because the presence of Israelis at the site in Homesh was in violation of the Disengagement Law.
The declaration by the military was made despite the fact that a yeshiva operates at the outpost and numerous right-wing demonstrations have been held there, including a march last month of some 20,000 activists which included a number of lawmakers. That demonstration was secured by the IDF.
Saturday’s protest came a day after hundreds of Israeli settlers reportedly attacked Palestinians around Homesh, when they went into the nearby Palestinian village of Burqa and threw stones at houses, fired weapons and set fields on fire, according to Palestinian reports.
Israel Defense Forces troops blocked the entrances to the village and clashed with residents, causing 15 injuries, Channel 13 reported.
Earlier Friday, activists from Peace Now arrived in the area and were blocked from entering. The activists requested approval from military officials, and were told that their going to Homesh and protesting was illegal, the network reported.
On Friday afternoon, with Shabbat approaching, dozens of Border Police officers arrived at Homesh and confiscated equipment from around the settlement’s yeshiva, including personal belongings of students and guests.
Homesh has become a focal point for the settler movement. Government ministers have vowed to push forward with the outpost’s eviction, which is the subject of an ongoing High Court of Justice case. The timeframe for the eviction is still unclear.
The issue has threatened to become another crisis for the teetering coalition. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Wednesday she would try to prevent the settlement’s complete evacuation, despite her coalition partners’ statements in favor of the move.
Leaning on the law, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday that construction in Homesh is currently “illegal.”
“There is a law that states that construction in localities that were part of the disengagement is illegal,” Bennett said. The outpost is built on privately owned Palestinian land.
Making the government’s strongest statement, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that he will evacuate Homesh as per the law, but he did not specify a timeframe for action.
“Homesh will be evacuated,” Gantz said on Monday at the opening of his Blue and White faction meeting. “Israeli law requires it.”
Homesh was originally shuttered as one of four Jewish settlements in the northern Samaria section of the West Bank included in the 2005 disengagement plan, which mostly focused on evacuating Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.
Since its evacuation, Homesh has become a symbol of struggle for the settler movement and a source of trouble for local Palestinian communities.
Although families have been formally evacuated from its borders, Homesh has been home to a destroyed and then reconstructed yeshiva. Its students and their supporters have a tense relationship with the surrounding Palestinian communities.
In December 2021, yeshiva student Yehuda Dimentman was killed in a terror attack while leaving the outpost.
On Tuesday, residents of the nearby Palestinian village Burqa set fire to a Homesh structure, and yeshiva students came down to meet them, setting off a stone-throwing fight, according to Army Radio.
The protest comes amid rocketing tensions in the West Bank and Israel ahead of the contentious Flag March set to be held in Jerusalem on Sunday.
The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said close to 90 Palestinians were injured by Israeli troops in the West Bank on Friday, and said at least one person was shot in the leg. The group said the Israelis used stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse Palestinian protesters, with the worst fighting taking place in the town of Huwara.
Also in the West Bank on Friday, a 15-year-old Palestinian teenager was killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank town of Al-Khader south of Bethlehem, after Palestinians allegedly hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at troops in the area.