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High Court rules against petition to evacuate illegal Homesh outpost in West Bank

The High Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday against a petition demanding the removal of the illegal West Bank outpost of Homesh, finding that its relocation from private Palestinian land fulfilled the demands of Palestinian land owners in the area to regain access to their territory.

The High Court did not, however, rule on the legality of the new outpost, which though built on state land was constructed without building permits, against the land use designation for the plot it is built on and without the necessary government authorization for a new settlement.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who as an additional minister in the Defense Ministry, holds authority over civilian issues in the West Bank, lauded the decision and thanked Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for his help in the relocation and ongoing legalization of the Homesh outpost.

The Yesh Din organization, which represented the Palestinian landowners, denounced the decision, which it said de facto authorizes the establishment of a new Homesh settlement and testifies to “the apartheid rule” in the West Bank.

Palestinian landowners have for years sought the removal of the outpost, consisting primarily of a yeshiva, from their private land, which the state agreed to evacuate in 2022 under the previous government and which the High Court issued an interim order to evacuate in January 2023.

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In May this year, Gallant permitted settler activists in coordination with the Samaria Regional Council to build a new yeshiva in the middle of the night on a separate plot of state land a short distance from the site of the original outpost.

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

Hebrew media outlets reported at the time that Smotrich applied pressure to ensure the construction was able to go ahead, but his office declined to comment on the issue.

As the state conceded in its latest filing to the High Court, that building was put up without construction permits and in contravention of the designated land use of the area.

The state’s response also noted that Gallant had instructed the IDF chief of staff to allow prefabricated building units and heavy earth-moving machinery to be brought into the site for the new Homesh outpost to enable the new yeshiva to be built.

The court had been scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on Thursday, but on Wednesday night ruled that the demands of the original petition filed in 2019 had been met and could be deleted.

Yesh Din argued in its latest filing to the court that it should rule the new yeshiva to also be illegal due to the violations of Israeli law committed when it was established, and due to the problematic intervention of government ministers who ordered the IDF chief of staff to approve the construction, despite the region’s military commander being responsible for such decisions.

The organization also pointed out that new settlements require authorization by the cabinet, which the relocated Homesh outpost had not received.

Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant during a discussion and a vote in Knesset, July 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The state argued that the old yeshiva built on private Palestinian land had now been entirely removed and that Palestinian landowners now had full access to their land.

It acknowledged that the road that provides access to the new yeshiva cuts through private Palestinian land, but argued that the original petition did not address this land and that the road in question has been in place “for decades.”

In their decision, Supreme Court Justices Esther Hayut, Uzi Vogelman and Yael Wilner ruled that since the private Palestinian land had now been evacuated, the heart of the matter had been resolved.

They noted that the access road is built on private Palestinian land, and that an IDF military presence close to the new Homesh site is also located on private Palestinian land, but that these plots had not been the subject of the original petition by the land owners or the interim evacuation order the court issued in January.

The court also ruled that “there has been a change in the factual status” of the access the Palestinian landowners have to their land following the evacuation of the old Homesh outpost, implying that the justices were now satisfied that access was possible.

“We have not lost sight of the petitioners’ claims regarding the legality of the new state of affairs, which is a result of moving the location of the yeshiva to state lands, but they go beyond the current petition,” the court added.

It said such claims could be addressed separately.

Finance Minister and Head of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich (third from right) with party members at a faction meeting in the Jewish settlement of Givat Harel, in the West Bank, February 14, 2023. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Yesh Din fiercely attacked the decision and the High Court justices themselves, saying they had failed to uphold democratic rights for Palestinians, while the court itself is being held up as a symbol of Israeli democracy by the anti-government protest movement that has arisen in the last seven months.

“While throughout Israel people are fighting to protect the High Court as a symbol of democracy, today the justices proved that for the Palestinians in the West Bank there is no defender and no law, and in the occupied territories might is right,” said the organization in a statement to the press.

“This shameful decision by the High Court justices is further evidence of the apartheid rule that has been established in the territories and which has become the norm, with the approval of the High Court of Justice.”

Smotrich said following the ruling that it was “an important day for Homesh” and for all settlements,” adding that the government was “legalizing the yeshiva and the Jewish hold on Homesh.”

Added the finance minister: “I would like to thank Defense Minister Gallant and the Civil Administration for the joint work for Homesh and for the settlements.”

Yossi Dagan, Chairman of the Samaria Regional Council, the local authority in which Homesh is located in the northern West Bank, praised the decision and said it would lead to the resettlement of three other settlements in the region evacuated under the terms of the 2005 Disengagement plan along with Homesh.

“The future is one of return and rebuilding the settlements of northern Samaria,” he said in reference to Homesh, and the Ganim, Kadim and Sa Nur settlements which were all evacuated in 2005.

In March the government repealed the 2005 law ordering the evacuation of those settlements as part of that year’s Gaza Disengagement plan.

“This is a huge moral step like no other on the way to a historical course correction, on the way to the reestablishment of the settlements of northern Samaria. Eighteen years after the crime of deportation and the folly of uprooting the settlements of northern Samaria, the people of Israel are today advancing another significant step on the road to rectification,” said Dagan.

“The government of Israel should now complete the process and apply the law to all the settlements in northern Samaria, and order the rebuilding of Homesh, Sa- Nur, Ganim and Kadim.”