Ultranationalist MK says goal of new law is to resettle north West Bank settlements

Otzma Yehudit’s Limor Son Har Melech strongly criticizes IDF, government for omitting three neighboring former settlements from military order allowing Israelis to reside in Homesh

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

View of the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh, in the West Bank, on November 17, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
View of the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh, in the West Bank, on November 17, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The ultimate goal of a law passed in March repealing part of the 2005 Disengagement Law is to resettle four evacuated Jewish settlements in the northern West Banks, Otzma Yehudit MK and settlement activist Limor Son Har Melech said.

She made the comments in the wake of a new military order rescinding a ban on Israelis residing in the area of one of those former settlements, Homesh, announced by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry, on Saturday night.

Son Har Melech, who was a resident of Homesh before it was evacuated 18 years ago, was strongly critical of the commander of IDF Central Command, Yehuda Fox, who issued the order, as it applied only to the area of Homesh, and that it had not been extended to the three other settlements.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on Sunday, she also argued that since roadblocks remain in place on the access road to the settlement, little had changed on the ground.

Son Har Melech’s ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party is a central part of the government, but its MKs have frequently spoken out against the government’s policies in the West Bank, which they see as insufficiently supportive of the settlements.

Homesh was one of four settlements in the northern West Bank, together with Ganim, Kadim, and Sa-Nur, that were evacuated under the terms of the 2005 Gaza Disengagement Law.

A kindergarten teacher takes her pupils for a walk in the West Bank settlement of Homesh, evacuated in 2005 under the terms of the Gaza Disengagement Law, July 22, 2005 (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

In order to prevent settler activists from disrupting the evacuation and later returning to the settlements, the 2005 law included a clause banning Israelis from residing in the evacuated areas.

Settlement activists nevertheless repeatedly returned to the site and established illegal residences and a yeshiva on land belonging to residents of nearby Palestinian villages, including Burqa.

The clause of the Disengagement Law applying to the northern West Bank was repealed through legislation last month at the behest of MKs that viewed the statute as a historic injustice.

The new military order issued by Fox on Thursday completes the repeal of the ban on Israelis residing in the Homesh area, and also appends two plots of land there to the Samaria Regional Council.

Describing the 2005 law as “an unethical national crime,” Son Har Melech denounced Fox for taking two months to implement the law’s repeal, for allowing only a small part of the former settlement to be added to the Samaria Regional Council, and for failing to extend the order to the other three former settlements in the region.

Fox has become a target for the ire of the settlement movement, which recently denounced the general for the demolition of illegal buildings put up by settlers in the West Bank.

MK Limor Son Har Melech attends a debate in the Knesset plenum, November 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“We passed a law that relates to the four settlements in norther Samaria — Homesh, Sa- Nur, Kadim, and Gadim — from where we were expelled, and we will apply it to all those settlements even if it is against the will of the commander,” Son Har Melech said.

“The goal is to settle these places anew… The next stage we are talking about is to build and return to those the settlements,” she said, arguing that the absence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank causes the growth of “terrorist nests that spread terrorism across the whole country.”

The government has said it plans to legalize the illegal outpost currently at Homesh, consisting of a makeshift yeshiva and dormitories, which the High Court of Justice has said should be demolished since they are located on private Palestinian land.

From the new military order, it appears that the government intends to move the yeshiva to one of the plots of land in the Homesh area that are not private Palestinian property, although that has not been confirmed.

Israeli soldiers block the entrance to the illegal Homesh West Bank settlement outpost at a roadblock, May 28, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Son Har Melech said that she and other proponents of the law envisioned applying it to the former Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip known as the Gush Katif settlement bloc — also evacuated in 2005 — and have settlers return there too.

The Yesh Din organization — which has represented landowners from nearby Burqa in their legal suits against Homesh to gain access to their land, on which the settlement sits — has strongly denounced the new military order.

It noted that the plots of land to which the outpost might be moved are either entirely or partially surrounded by private Palestinian land, and that relocating the outpost to those plots would necessitate curtailing the access of Palestinian landowners to their land.

Yesh Din has also noted that Homesh is surrounded by four Palestinian villages on three of its sides and that legalizing the settlement would severely interrupt Palestinian territorial contiguity, which the 2005 Disengagement Law was designed to remedy.

“The government as well as the professional echelons, including the police, the military commander, and the State Attorney’s Office are all backing the outlaws, and giving a tailwind for lawbreaking,” said Shlomy Zachary, a lawyer with Yesh Din’s legal team who has represented the Burqa landowners.

“After so many years in which Palestinians were victims of such activity the settlers are now getting their rewards, so this signals the total capitulation of law enforcement to the outlaws,” he continued.

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