Inside storyMany ministers, MKs due to address 3,000 at conference Sunday

Thousands of right-wing activists are getting ready to resettle Gaza after war

‘Gaza City will be Jewish’ says one leader; core groups of potential residents being assembled; MKs from all parties in Netanyahu-led bloc support the burgeoning movement

Shalom Yerushalmi

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

View of structures in the former Jewish settlement of Gush Katif in the southern Gaza Strip on July 27, 2020. (Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)
View of structures in the former Jewish settlement of Gush Katif in the southern Gaza Strip on July 27, 2020. (Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

For some on the right, conquering the Gaza Strip and reestablishing Israeli settlements there is no longer just a dream: Government ministers, leading Knesset members, public figures and thousands of activists have been vigorously working on the plan since the war with Hamas began on October 7, and have ramped up their efforts in the last few weeks.

The activists are allocating tasks and establishing core settlement groups based on a map of the settlements they plan to establish in the Strip.

On Sunday, the activists will hold a large conference on “Jewish settlement in Gaza” at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center that is expected to draw over 3,000 people.

Two Likud ministers, Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar and Tourism Minister Haim Katz, will speak at the conference. Zohar has called upon all his associates to come, and Katz has claimed that “we represent the majority of the people.”

Additional Likud ministers are also expected to attend and speak at the event. All of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party’s cabinet ministers will be there (National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir; Minister for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee Yitzhak Wasserlauf; and Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu). It is also likely that fellow far-right party Religious Zionism’s ministers — Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, National Missions and Settlements Minister Orit Strock, and Immigration and Absorption Minister Ofir Sofer — will not miss the opportunity to appear before 3,000 potential voters.

Knesset members are also set to address the event, including seven from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party: Hanoch Milwidsky, Nissim Vaturi, Amit Halevi, Tally Gotliv, Etty Hava Atia, Moshe Passal and Ariel Kallner. They will be joined by far-right Otzma Yehudit MKs Limor Son Har Melech, Yitzhak Kroizer, Almog Cohen, and Zvika Fogel, and three from Religious Zionism — Moshe Solomon, Zvi Sukkot, and Michal Waldiger.

Culture and Sports Miki Zohar arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The event is organized, among others, by Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, and the chairperson of the Nachala movement, Daniella Weiss, who is very active in settling and planning illegal outposts in the West Bank.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, dismantling its settlements, pulling out the IDF, and leaving the territory in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas took control of Gaza in a violent coup in 2007, and no elections have been held since.

War erupted on October 7 with a cross-border attack by Palestinian terror group Hamas from the Gaza Strip that killed 1,200 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, amid massacres and atrocities. Terrorists also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages to Gaza, where more than half remain captive.

Israel responded to the attack with a military campaign to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and release the hostages.

Israel’s leaders have repeatedly dismissed the idea of reestablishing settlements in Gaza, amid outright opposition from the international community, particularly Israel’s chief ally, the United States. Still, the military campaign in the Strip to fell Hamas has raised hopes among some stalwarts of the settlement movement.

“We need to take this area back and establish a settlement in Gaza,” says Dagan, “We need to start in the north of the Gaza Strip. The area where Elei Sinai, Nisanit, and Dugit used to be located… It’s close to Sderot, and that’s where the first settlements will be built.”

Sderot is the largest Israeli town near the Gaza border.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Weiss, the Nachala leader, told The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site Zman Israel on Tuesday that the planned settlements already have names, and there is also an action strategy.

“The response is enormous — you’ll see it at the conference,” said Weiss. “We managed to register 400 families in seven core settlement groups all over Gaza. We have core groups in the northern border — where the Elei Sinai, Nisanit and Dugit settlements were, and in Gaza City itself. And in the entire compound of the former Gush Katif [settlement] bloc.

“Gaza City [also in northern Gaza] will be Jewish. We have no legal problem in the north of the Gaza Strip because we inquired and found that the territory there was never under Egyptian sovereignty,” she said.

Israel captured Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War from Egypt, which had occupied the territory in 1948 during the war surrounding the establishment of the State of Israel.

“We formed serious teams, collected donations,” Weiss continued. “We’ll partly follow the same strategy that we used in Judea and Samaria: First we [the settlers] will establish a presence in the army camps. Step by step,” she said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

“The settlements that will be established won’t have the same names as the ones from before the disengagement,” she said, referring to the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the evacuation of settlements at the time. “Each settlement will be named after a different fallen soldier, or the initials of several soldiers who fell in Gaza. One of the settlements will be called Yishai. On Sunday we will present the names.”

Daniella Weiss takes part in a march to the Evyatar outspot, near the West Bank city of Nablus, on April 10, 2023. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

“I love this moment of organization,” Weiss confided. “We have everything: a religious-secular core, an ultra-Orthodox core, teams that have been working independently for some time. In the city of Khan Younis, a Jewish city will be built and we will call it Hanut Yona.”

Most of the ministers and members of the Knesset who are active in supporting settlement in Gaza also back the voluntary emigration of Gaza residents during and after the war, a notion that has drawn international backlash, including stern opposition from the US. But even if the Palestinian residents remain, the activists are preparing to establish settlements under what they hope will be permanent Israeli rule in Gaza.

The occupation of Gaza and the establishment of settlements there is not the Israeli government’s policy for postwar Gaza, and Netanyahu has stated that Israel will not remain in Gaza after the war although it will retain overall security control.

At the same time, close to a third of government members and the Knesset do support renewed settlement within the Gaza Strip — including MKs not only in Likud, Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit, but also the two ultra-Orthodox parties. Netanyahu will thus be under pressure from within, from members of all parties in his pre-war coalition.

Gotliv, one of the Likud MKs scheduled to attend the conference, told Zman Israel that “only the settlement of the northern Gaza Strip will bring security and defeat of the enemy. Unfortunately, the Likud leadership is afraid to talk about settlement and control in the north of the Gaza Strip.”

MK Tally Gotliv speaks in the Knesset, Jerusalem on January 22, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The campaign for settlement in Gaza began with notices hung near the Knesset during the first week of the war and small gatherings in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

The method is typical of the settlers’ strategy for action over the years in the West Bank: establishing themselves on the territory or at army locations in small groups as the government and the army turn a blind eye; utilizing connections and political pressure in the Knesset and the corridors of power; and mass events, demonstrations and conferences that push the agenda for new settlements.

“We are waiting for a government decision on establishing a small settlement, holding on to a military outpost or something in the north of the Gaza Strip,” said Dagan, who is one of the Likud party’s most prominent activists.

“Without the government, it won’t work. We’re not challenging Netanyahu, but our position is unequivocal, and I know it can work. Sixteen years ago we fought to return to Homesh after disengagement,” he says, referring to an illegal West Bank outpost that was evacuated in 2005, at the same time as the withdrawal from Gaza, but then reestablished by settlers years later after the Knesset repealed the laws that brought about the closure of some northern West Bank settlements.

“In the end it happened, and the law of disengagement was repealed,” Dagan said. “We returned to Homesh and northern Samaria, and we will also return to Gush Katif.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report, which first appeared Wednesday in Zman Israel.

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