Settlers move into outpost near Hebron, in wake of Palestinian attacks

3 families to permanently live in caravans at Mevaser outpost, which was slated to become an industrial zone; Defense Ministry says it wasn’t notified of move ahead of time

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Settlers from Kiryat Arba attend a ceremony at the Mevaser outpost marking the first families to move into the hilltop community in response to recent spate of Palestinian attacks on December 16, 2018. (Kiryat Arba Hebron Local Council)
Settlers from Kiryat Arba attend a ceremony at the Mevaser outpost marking the first families to move into the hilltop community in response to recent spate of Palestinian attacks on December 16, 2018. (Kiryat Arba Hebron Local Council)

Settlers moved into an outpost just north of the southern West Bank’s Kiryat Arba settlement on Sunday, in what they called their response to the recent wave of Palestinian terror attacks.

“We made a decision in light of the harsh news endured by the people of Israel last week to permanently move families into Givat Mevaser,” said Kiryat Arba Local Council chairman Eliyahu Libman, in a message sent to residents.

The municipality held a ceremony attended by dozens of residents on Sunday evening, celebrating the three families who chose to move into the caravans that have been sitting vacant since last March.

IDF soldiers were on site during the ceremony in order to protect the Israelis.

Children play at the Mevaser outpost near Kiryat Arba settlement on December 16, 2018. (Kiryat Arba Hebron Local Council)

“Kiryat Arba-Hebron, the capital of Judea, embraces our brothers in Binyamin and throughout the country and calls (on the government) to take additional measures to strengthen and expand settlement and (Israeli) sovereignty (in the West Bank),” Libman told the residents at the ceremony.

While the residents did not have all of the necessary permits to make the move, Libman pointed out in his statement that the site is located on what is considered to be state land, as opposed to private Palestinian land.

Last March, four trailers were installed at the Mevaser outpost as part of a new industrial zone that the local council is building in memory of fallen soldiers and Benaya Sarel and Eliav Gelman, brothers-in-law who both grew up in Kiryat Arba.

The land the zone is situated on, almost a kilometer north of the settlement’s fence, was seized by the state in 1982, and was designated as the building grounds for a Kiryat Arba industrial zone six years later.

The Palestinan Authority’s official Wafa news agency reported that the land had belonged to three Palestinian families in Hebron.

The Civil Administration — the Defense Mininstry body that authorizes West Bank construction — said at the time that the structures were installed in “accordance with all legal procedures.”

However, the building plan approved by the Civil Administration was for an industrial zone, not for residential homes. The residents’ move into the caravans would therefore be illegal. An official in the defense ministry body said the settlers did not coordinate the move with her office. A spokeswoman for the town said that the residents were in the process of changing the building plan to allow for residential occupancy.

A crane places a caravan on the hilltop of a new industrial zone in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, on March 6, 2018. (Screen capture/Facebook)

The move by settlers outside Kiryat Arba came just three days after Israelis installed a pair of mobile homes on the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood in the central West Bank, claiming to have purchased the land from nearby Palestinians.

The Palestinian violence throughout the West Bank last week had settler leaders calling on the government to allow the military to take extensive punitive measures against Palestinians, in addition to expanding Israeli settlement.

Hours after the caravans were placed in Amona, a Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli soldier and bashed his head with a rock, seriously injuring him, at a military post outside the Beit El settlement. The assailant then fled the scene, prompting a manhunt.

The attack took place close to the site of Thursday’s deadly terror shooting at a bus stop near the Givat Assaf outpost in which two soldiers were killed and two others — a soldier and a civilian — were seriously injured.

Settlers install a pair of caravans on the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood on December 13, 2018. (Bezalel Smotrich/Twitter)

On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist opened fire from a passing vehicle on a group of Israelis standing at a bus stop near the Ofra settlement. Seven people were injured, including a pregnant woman whose baby died after being delivered prematurely.

Groups of settler youth have responded to the violence hurling stones at Palestinian vehicles throughout the West Bank, reportedly shooting live bullets at homes in the villages of Ein Yabroud and Beitin, and assaulting a Palestinian bus driver in the Modiin Illit settlement. Over a dozen Palestinians have been injured in these various attacks, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.

Settler leaders have been calling for the government to carry out extensive punitive measures against Palestinians in response to the latest attacks. This in addition to demands for substantial settlement construction. Netanyahu responded to the calls last Thursday by announcing that he had directed the government — through Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to legalize some 2,000 illegal homes built on private Palestinian land throughout the West Bank. In addition, he directed the Defense Ministry to advance building plans for 82 homes in the Ofra settlement and for new industrial zones in the Beitar Illit and Avnei Hefetz settlements.

On Monday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation passed Regulation Law 2, which directs the Knesset-appointed outpost legalization committee to regulate 66 illegal hilltop communities in the next two years. In the meantime, the bill prevents those outposts from being demolished and ensures that they receive full government services.

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal 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.

Although certain government ministries may currently not fund outposts to the same degree that they do settlements, local Israeli authorities throughout the West Bank have long taken financial responsibility for the illegal communities, ensuring that they are hooked up to water and electricity and receive the necessary public services. In addition, the IDF uses extensive resources to ensure that they are protected.

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