Security forces removed illegal structures set up by Jewish settlers and right-wing activists in the northern West Bank and in Israel’s southern Negev region on Wednesday morning.
Over 100 soldiers and police officers accompanied heavy equipment that was brought to the illegal outpost of Homesh, where settlers have maintained a presence despite the site being officially barred to Israelis.
Security forces removed nine wooden structures and tents that were used as dormitories by students studying in a makeshift yeshiva, or religious academy, at Homesh.
Police and soldiers surrounded the main yeshiva building with the students inside while the demolition work was carried out. The yeshiva itself was left intact.
Activity at Homesh has recently increased after Palestinian gunmen killed yeshiva student Yehuda Dimentman in a shooting attack near the outpost in December. A few dozen students, along with a handful of families, have been living at the site.
It was the fourth time that buildings have been destroyed at Homesh since the attack.
בחסות בנט ושקד, אורבך וסילמן: כוחות גדולים פושטים כעת על חומש ומתחילים בהרס מבני פנימיה שהוקמו עוד לפני הרצח של דימנטמן pic.twitter.com/CpRg50yfz4
— מנדי ריזל (@mendi_rizel) February 9, 2022
בפעם הרביעית מאז הפיגוע: כוחות הביטחון החלו בשעה האחרונה להרוס מספר מבנים במאחז חומש בצפון השומרון. כמו בפעמים הקודמות – גם הבוקר לא צפויה הריסה של הישיבה עצמה pic.twitter.com/CddmN8s7Az
— שחר גליק (@glick_sh) February 9, 2022
Homesh is a former settlement that was emptied as part of a 2005 evacuation — the so-called “disengagement” that also saw the Gaza Strip emptied of Israeli settlers and soldiers — but is now the site of the illegally operated religious school.
The law prohibits Israeli citizens from entering the area, and the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the land belongs to Palestinians from the nearby village of Burqa.
But the settlers have repeatedly returned, setting up tents and other structures on the foundations of former homes, now overgrown with weeds. The army has demolished the structures on several occasions but has allowed the yeshiva to remain standing.
Last week military prosecutors filed an indictment against a Palestinian minor who is accused of participating in the attack that killed Dimentman.
Meanwhile, in the Negev, a few dozen right-wing activists, reportedly residents of the south and students at yeshivas in the area, set up a new outpost overnight Tuesday on state land close to the Bedouin city of Rahat.
Two prefab structures were brought to the location, which the activists declared as a “new community” named Ma’ale Paula in memory of the wife of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion had advocated for Jewish communities to be established in the Negev during the early years of the state.
Activists said that Ma’ale Paula was set up because of “the conduct of the government and the abandonment of the Negev to a Bedouin takeover,” a reference to illegal Arab construction in the region.
They accused the government of taking a “post-Zionist” attitude that threatens the entire Zionist enterprise.
“When in the State of Israel in 2022 it is forbidden to plant trees and establish settlements, it means we must go back to the activities of Zionist pioneers, who worked to set up fortified Jewish outposts” in the country before the establishment of the state, they said.
יחידת יואב, המופקדת על ההריסות בנגב, נשלחה להרוס את בתי הישוב היהודי החדש "מעלה פולה", בהתאם לאולטימטום של הבדואים ולקול תשואותיהם.
ממשלת 10 מעלות ימינה pic.twitter.com/us8zroWWtP
— אורית סטרוק (@oritstrock) February 9, 2022
Two people were arrested, the Kan public broadcaster reported. The activists were joined by opposition lawmakers Shlomo Karhi (Likud), Orit Strock (Religious Zionism), and Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionism).
A complaint against the outpost was filed by the Israel Land Authority, the Israel Police said in a statement.
“Police forces are working to maintain public order after several dozen demonstrators arrived at the site and are holding a protest,” police said.
The Rahat municipality called the outpost a “provocation,” Channel 13 news reported.
The right-wing, pro-settlement Regavim group said in a statement that some 3,500 illegal buildings are constructed each year by the Bedouin community.
“Worse than the lack of law enforcement is the selective enforcement,” the group said, according to Kan.
The protest came after as the government is advancing a comprehensive plan to authorize some unrecognized Bedouin villages in order to end a major coalition crisis over controversial tree-planting in disputed parts of the Negev Desert. The tree-planting last month sparked days of rioting by Bedouin, who saw it as part of a government effort to expel them from their unrecognized hamlets. The coalition of eight diverse parties relies on the Islamist Ra’am party to maintain its majority in the Knesset. Ra’am has made Bedouin rights a central plank of its policies.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.