state-religion survey 224.
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Under military escort and a setting sun, the northern Samaria settlement of Homesh was once again bustling with activity on Monday evening as hundreds of guests attended a wedding on the hilltop where homes once stood, exactly three years after their destruction.
A huppa was set up overlooking a panoramic view, guests arrived in bulletproof buses and the young bride and groom, Asaf and Shunamit Volberg, were married at the same place they had met three years before - while protesting the disengagement from the Gaza Strip as it unfolded at Homesh.
"This place remains very special in our hearts," said the bride's mother, Tamar Kirshenbaum. "We hope that through our actions people will see how special it is, and the army will repair what they did here. We simply want them to allow people to come back to Homesh."
As part of 2005's disengagement, four settlements in northern Samaria - Kadim, Ganim, Sanur and Homesh were dismantled along with the entire bloc of settlements in the Gaza Strip. But where security concerns including rampant Kassam rocket fire were cited as reasons for leaving the latter, the former residents of Homesh feel that they were evacuated unnecessarily, and ties to the site where their homes once stood still run deep.
"The expulsion was completely unnecessary," said Gershon Mesika, Mayor of the Samaria Regional Council, as he gazed out at the grand view surrounding the site. "You can see that as soon as you come out here and look around. There's nothing here."
Mesika pointed to the surrounding valleys and barren hilltops. "It's also strategic. On a clear day you can see right out to the ocean near Hadera."
But traveling to the area is not simple. From Jerusalem, the road to Homesh passes the Binyamin settlements, such as Bet El and Ofra, before reaching Shavei Shomron, which is within the Samaria Regional Council. From there, one must traverse side-roads which go through a nearby Arab village before reaching a checkpoint. On any other day, Israelis are not allowed through.
The checkpoint, positioned below the hill leading up to Homesh, was stationed there after the disengagement, and a red sign at its entrance reads, "Palestinian Authority Territory Area A, No Entry For Israelis, Entry Illegal By Israeli Law."
But due to Mayor Mesika's efforts, the wedding party received permission to enter on Monday, and seven busloads of guests made their way up to the top of the hill, both to celebrate with the young couple and to revisit the sites of their old homes.
"The army knows they are better off in dealing with Gershon [Mesika] because he has a position of authority," explained David Ha'ivri, an activist and wedding guest at Homesh on Monday. "If they don't deal with him, they know they'll have to deal with the grassroots groups marching through the fields, so it's easier for them to have someone that's taking responsibility."
Thus, after obtaining permission and giving the wedding party the green light to move forward, the convoy of buses and army vehicles began arriving at Homesh by mid-afternoon. Many people got off of their buses and walked away from the wedding area immediately, rambling over the odd brick or red-roof tile still laying on the ground.
"I lived here for 25 years," said Benny Shalom, who is credited as one of the original residents of Homesh. "Show me another place like this and I'll got there - there isn't one. I used to wake up in the morning and look out my window. To the north you could see the Hermon, to the south, you could see Ashkelon. There's nothing like it in the world."
Shalom also dismissed the idea that local Arabs were happy to see Homesh residents go.
"I have a lot of Arab friends in the area -I speak Arabic well, and I look like them," Shalom said with a grin. "Every day since we've left, they call me and say, 'Benny, things are bad now that you've gone, we had it so much better when Homesh was still here."
But the main sentiment of the day was the call for a return to Homesh, and a brief meeting of the Samaria Regional Council heads solidified it.
"We will be back here," said Mesika, as fellow council heads looked on. "We are going to rebuild these houses, and it's going to be soon."
Shalom, who also spoke during the meeting, concluded with his thoughts on the wedding.
"This wedding is an appropriate symbol for the future of Homesh," he said. "And my only prayers today are that God lets this young couple being married today be happy, and that they should be my neighbors in Homesh someday soon."