Palestinians can farm the land that was the site of the former Homesh settlement in Samaria, according to a ruling by the Attorney General’s office issued last week but released to the media only on Sunday.
The ruling is the final legal nail in the coffin for the battle waged by right-wing activists and politicians to resettle Homesh, one of four West Bank settlements evacuated as part of the 2005 disengagement plan.
It follows a June decision by the state to cancel the 1978 military land seizure order, in which land was taken from the Palestinian village of Burka for the creation of a Nahal Brigade. The creation of Homesh on the Samaria hilltop soon followed.
Since the disengagement, Homesh – along with the former Samaria settlements of Sanur, Ganim and Kadim – have been closed military zones. Access had been blocked to both Palestinians and settlers. Now Palestinians can enter Homesh, but Israeli citizens are barred from the site.
Settlers and right-wing activists and politicians have pushed to resettle Homesh over the past eight years. They have held multiple public and private events and there is a small yeshiva on the site.
Settlers have received, over the year,s temporary permission from the IDF to hold certain events at Homesh. Last Passover, settlers held a holiday festival among the ruins of the formers homes. Politicians have visited the site, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. He traveled there in 2009, as vice premier, to call for Homesh to be rebuilt.
In 2010, with the help of the nongovernmental group Yesh Din, Palestinians from Burka petitioned the High Court of Justice for the right to return to their property.
The state has granted Palestinians that right in a process, which ended last week.
On September 10, the head of the IDF Security and Criminal Desk, Major Udi Sagi, sent a letter on behalf of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to the law office of attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomy Zachary.
In the letter, Sagi explained that Homesh has been removed from the list of settlements, and as such the order, which prohibited Palestinian access without IDF permission, no longer applied to that hilltop.
Sagi clarified that Israelis were still not allowed to access the site.
Zachary said in response, “Thirty-five years have passed since the land was usurped from its lawful owners, and we are now informed that they may lawfully return to their land.
“Regrettably, we are well aware of the regular and unlawful presence of Israelis in the area. Following the notification by the attorney general, we hope that the law will now be enforced and Israelis present in the area will be removed, so that the Palestinian landowners may safely access their land and begin the work of rehabilitation.”
Settlers and right-wing politicians reacted angrily to the state’s decision.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said it was a discriminatory act that had significance with respect to the overall issue of handing over land to Palestinians that had been under Israeli ownership.
Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika said, “the state of Israel has proven once against that it is the first and the best at harming the rights of its citizens. [As such], it seems, that we do not need any enemies.”
Avi Ro’eh, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said it was a serious and illogical step. Israel should not give up strategic property, especially in a week that marks the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, Ro’eh said. After years of concessions and withdrawals, Israel’s security situation has only gotten worse, he added.
“I want to remind the defense minister of his words from four years ago, that we need to return to Homesh and that the disengagement was a mistake. The defense minister should correct this mistake by renewing the settlement in Homesh,” Ro’eh stated.