Shaked to do ‘everything’ to prevent evacuation of illegal West Bank outpost Homesh

Opposition bill to allow Israeli citizens back to evacuated settlements fails; comments come day before government must respond to High Court over the planned evacuation

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks with former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a Knesset plenum session, May 11, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks with former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a Knesset plenum session, May 11, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked on Wednesday said she would work to try and prevent the complete evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost Homesh, even as her coalition partners have vowed to push forward with the move.

“We will do everything so that Homesh is not evacuated. The continued existence of the yeshiva there is symbolic and significant,” Shaked said at the Gush Etzion leadership conference held at Kibbutz Lavi.

“This yeshiva has been evacuated many times. This should stop and the yeshiva students should be allowed to study,” the interior minister continued.

The Homesh evacuation threatens to be the next test for the shaky big tent coalition, many of whose right-wing members ideologically support the wildcat settlement as strongly as its left-wing and Arab members do not.

Shaked’s statements are a departure from those of other coalition leaders about the contentious illegal outpost, including the prime and defense ministers.

Leaning on the law, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told a crowd gathered at Lindenbaum Seminary in Jerusalem on Tuesday that construction in Homesh is currently “illegal.”

People walk by the water tower on the ruins of Homesh, on August 27, 2019. (Hillel Meir/Flash90)

“There is a law that states that construction in localities that were part of the disengagement is illegal,” Bennett said.

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.”

At the end of this week, the government is due to submit its response to an ongoing High Court of Justice case regarding evacuating Homesh.

Gantz is reportedly in a series of meetings on Wednesday to clarify how to structure the government’s response.

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.

On Wednesday, the opposition tried to ramp up the pressure on the coalition over Homesh by reintroducing a controversial bill that would repeal the current ban on Israeli citizens in areas cleared as part of the disengagement plan.

Led by Likud MK and longtime disengagement opponent Yuli Edelstein, the effort is the latest version of a bill that Edelstein has pushed for years, most recently in May 2021.

The vote failed by a vote of 49-61, with both Bennett and Gantz voting against it.

Since its evacuation, Homesh has become a symbol of struggle for the settler movement and an irritant to 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.

A Palestinian protester walks past burning tires and trash bins, set up as roadblocks in the West Bank village of Burqa during clashes with Israeli forces following a protest against a march by Israelis to the wildcat settlement outpost of Homesh, on April 19, 2022. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

In the latest in a series of tensions, on Tuesday, residents of 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 divisions about how to handle Homesh reach deep not only across the coalition but also into the prime minister’s own Yamina party. Shaked is not alone in her support of Homesh in Yamina, which built its base on nationalist, pro-settlement ideology.

Fellow party MK Abir Kara was caught on an undated tape saying that he wanted to do “everything we can” to protect the yeshiva, according to the Israel Hayom newspaper on Wednesday.

“It is very important to me not to deceive people, and to immediately do everything we can so that the yeshiva will stand and not be evacuated,” Kara said.

“I do not deceive myself, in this government, we will not repeal the disengagement law,” Kara continued, adding, “I think a much more stable government is needed here to make decisions of this magnitude.”

Yamina MK Nir Orbach is also expected to be against evacuating the Homesh yeshiva. Although he has yet to make a public statement on it this week, in January Orbach held this line during a Knesset committee meeting.

“As a Yamina representative in the coalition, we do not intend to vacate the yeshiva at Homesh,” Orbach said to opposition MK Orit Strock, when she challenged his position on the illegal outpost.

Some current and former Yamina MKs have openly joined opposition forces rallying in support of Homesh. On Sunday, Likud MK Yoav Kisch and Religious Zionism MK Orit Struck led a delegation to the outpost. Among them were MKs Idit Silman, who resigned from the coalition over ideological difference in April, Amichai Chikli, who was ousted from Yamina in April, and Yomtob Kalfon, who was a Yamina MK until being bumped out by Matan Kahana’s return to Knesset earlier this month.

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