Yeshiva gets new home in north West Bank outpost as legalization efforts gather steam

Homesh yeshiva moves from its old site on private Palestinian land to state land, with government planning to legalize the outpost despite opposition from the US

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

Head of the Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan (right) afixes a mezuzah to the new yeshiva in Homesh, May 29, 2023. (Roi Hadi)
Head of the Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan (right) afixes a mezuzah to the new yeshiva in Homesh, May 29, 2023. (Roi Hadi)

A new building for a yeshiva at the illegal West Bank outpost of Homesh was constructed overnight at a new site, a long-term goal of the settlement movement and a fresh step in the government’s efforts to legalize the settlement.

Construction work initiated by the Samaria Regional Council began last week several hundred meters from the site of the existing Homesh yeshiva, and the basic structure of the rudimentary building was completed Sunday night and early Monday.

The Civil Administration, which has authority over planning and construction in the West Bank, did not provide permits for the construction of the yeshiva, and the building is illegal under Israeli law.

Hebrew media outlets reported that Finance Minister and junior minister in the defense ministry Bezalel Smotrich applied pressure Sunday night to allow the construction to go ahead. His office declined to comment on the issue.

Settler leaders and government ministers warmly praised the construction of the yeshiva, describing it as a rectification of an old injustice. Homesh had been evacuated in 2005 under the terms of the Disengagement Law.

But the Yesh Din organization, which has represented the legal claims of local Palestinian landowners, said the location of the new yeshiva would mean that the landowners would continue to be denied access to their land.

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

A makeshift yeshiva has been located on private Palestinian land in Homesh for several years, but the new building was constructed on what Israel considers to be public land as part of efforts to legalize the outpost.

Palestinian landowners from the nearby village of Burqa fought a years-long battle to have the old yeshiva demolished because it was located on their private land, and the High Court of Justice ruled in their favor, although that decision was never implemented by the state.

The government, along with Homesh activists, hopes the outpost can be legalized, in line with the position the state adopted in its most recent filing to the High Court.

In March, the Knesset approved a bill revoking clauses of the 2005 Disengagement Law that prohibited Israelis from residing in Homesh and three other settlements in the northern West Bank that were evacuated at the time of the withdrawal from Gaza.

Last week, a military order issued by the IDF lifted the military ban on Israelis residing in Homesh itself, paving the way for the establishment of the new yeshiva building.

According to a statement put out by Homesh activists, the yeshiva was erected overnight Sunday, apparently using the prefabricated walls often used by settlement activists when seeking to quickly establish a new outpost or structure.

The yeshiva was built on one of the two parcels of state land in the Homesh area, which are surrounded either entirely or in part by private Palestinian land.

Samaria Regional Council Head Yossi Dagan arrived in the early hours of the morning to affix a mezuzah to the entrance of the yeshiva, saying it was another step toward reversing the 2005 evacuation.

Head of the Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan (left) visits the new yeshiva in Homesh, May 29, 2023. (Roi Hadi)

“This is a historic moment, [and we are] a few steps away from correcting the terrible injustice of the deportation in Homesh,” said Dagan. “Since the expulsion we have been working day and night to rectify the injustice that is not only personal to the expellees but to the entire people of Israel.”

Dagan added that the evacuation of the settlements in the region would only be fully put right once the other three evacuated settlements — Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur — were resettled.

Contributions toward the project were reportedly made by donors in Israel and the Diaspora, whom yeshiva director Shmuel Vandai thanked for having made the establishment of the new building possible.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, said the establishment of the new yeshiva was a “historic and moving moment” and signified the adoption of a policy of development throughout “the State of Israel.”

Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf, also of Otzma Yehudit, similarly welcomed the construction of the yeshiva, adding that the government would “continue to work to legalize settlement, strengthen it, and develop it.”

Right-wing MKs, including former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, visit the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh in 2022. (Roi Hadi)

Yesh Din denounced the development.

“Moving the Homesh yeshiva constitutes a sin on top of a crime,” the organization said. “The new location of the yeshiva still will not allow access for Palestinian landowners to their land, and continues their expulsion from the land. Instead of immediately evacuating the outpost, Israel is rewarding criminals and trespassers.”

The left-wing Peace Now group also condemned the construction of the yeshiva, describing the incident as “criminality” that would harm Israel’s security and diplomatic standing.

“Contrary to the position of the security establishment and contrary to explicit political commitments to the US – the State of Israel surrendered to Smotrich and his extremist friends and established a new and dangerous settlement in an area that was evacuated in the Disengagement,” the organization said.

The US State Department criticized the passage of the legislation repealing the clauses of the Disengagement Law when it passed in March, and criticized the lifting of the military order against residing in Homesh last week.

Its statement last week, it called the move “inconsistent with both former Prime Minister Sharon’s written commitment to the Bush Administration in 2004 and the current Israeli government’s commitments to the Biden Administration,” likely a reference to Jerusalem’s agreement at regional conferences in February and March to a four-month moratorium on discussing new settlement units and a six-month freeze on okaying new outposts.

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