Hundreds of Israelis, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, took part in a celebratory prayer service marking Israel’s Independence Day Wednesday at the site of the former settlement of Homesh in the northern West Bank.
The gathering, also attended by far-right MKs Limor Son Har-Melech — a former Homesh resident — and Zvi Sukkot, marked the first time since the Knesset pared back a law prohibiting settlement at the site that the army has allowed such a large group to make its way there.
The settlement was cleared out in 2005, but there has been growing momentum in the settlement movement, backed by government ministers, to re-establish a permanent Jewish-Israeli presence there. A makeshift yeshiva has long operated at the site.
Smotrich tweeted a video Wednesday showing him and other settlement movement leaders among masses of men dancing during morning prayers in Homesh.
The Religious Zionism lawmaker wrote that celebrating both the 75th birthday of the State of Israel and the repeal of parts of the 2005 Disengagement Law — which passed in the Knesset in mid-March — made him “tremble, tear up and rejoice.”
The repeal of the law by the Knesset earned Israel a sharp rebuke from allies including the US, which called the move “provocative and counterproductive.” The State Department even summoned Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog to protest the legislation, marking the first time in a decade an Israeli envoy in Washington faced such a call.
לראות את שלושת האבות יבדל"א של עידודי זולדן, שולי הר מלך ויהודה דימנטמן הי"ד רוקדים יחד הבוקר במרכז המעגל לצלילי שירי ההלל של יום העצמאות בישיבת חומש, בהודאה על 75 שנות עצמאות ועל ביטול חוק ההתנתקות בצפון השומרון, להצטמרר, לדמוע ולשמוח. ולדעת ש"בדמייך חיי"!
קרדיט: הקול היהודי. pic.twitter.com/xJ7VqfODT8
— בצלאל סמוטריץ' (@bezalelsm) April 26, 2023
Son Har-Melech said that after years of visiting Homesh on Independence Day “to protest against [our] eviction,” this year the gathering included “a special prayer of thanksgiving” for the repeal of the law “after years of public battle.”
The far-right MK added that the celebration on Wednesday with other former Homesh residents “expresses better than anything else the true meaning of Jewish independence and sovereignty in our country.”
יום העצמאות השנה הוא מרגש במיוחד, קשה לתאר במילים את גודל ההודיה והתקווה ואופטימיות שהוא מביא איתו.
אחרי שנים בהן עלינו לחומש כל יום עצמאות כדי למחות על הגירוש, השנה התרגשתי להגיע לחומש כדי להשתתף בתפילת הודיה מיוחדת על ביטול חוק ההתנתקות שהשגנו אחרי שנים של מאבק ציבורי. pic.twitter.com/YyjvjFwMEO
— לימור סון הר מלך (@limor_sonhrmelh) April 26, 2023
Just a week ago, the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court threw out charges against several Israelis who were indicted for illegally visiting the settlement before the law was repealed. The new law — which ended the ban on Israelis entering and residing there without authorization — only applies to the area around Homesh and the other three settlements: Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur.
Homesh and the other destroyed settlements have been a symbol to supporters, who viewed the ban on entering the land as an injustice they sought to undo, while to Palestinians the areas are viewed as another section of West Bank territory stripped from them.
The repeal will bolster the coalition’s efforts to officially legalize and reestablish Homesh, though the High Court has ruled that it was built on private Palestinian land, which will still complicate any such efforts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has pledged to preserve the Homesh yeshiva, despite court orders to demolish it.