MK lobby protests press ban on Homesh

Banning reporters from entering Homesh shows that the IDF has something to hide, says MK Arye Eldad.

Arye Eldad at Homesh 224 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Arye Eldad at Homesh 224
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Taking a stand for freedom of the press, the Knesset's Homesh lobby on Monday refused to make the final leg of their trip to the evacuated settlement after the army banned reporters from joining them. "Prohibiting reporters from entering Homesh shows that they [the army] have something to hide," said MK Arye Eldad (NU/NRP), who is a member of the lobby. He, along with MKs Uri Ariel (NU/NRP) and Yuli Edelstein (Likud), stood in the hot sun on the blocked, dusty road on Monday and argued with a number of soldiers in hopes of gaining entry for the group. The three MKs from the 10-member lobby created only last month had planned to visit Homesh, where some 30 right-wing activists from the grassroots group Homesh First are reportedly camped out. In the last two months, activists have held an almost continual vigil on the isolated Samaria hilltop that was evacuated in 2005 as part of the disengagement. Security forces have conducted raids to arrest the activists, occasionally clearing the site out completely, but that has not stopped the activists from returning. The activists have made it to the site, which is a closed military zone, by skirting the roadblocks and hiking through fields and hilltops. The army has refused for the last two months to grant entry to reporters. On Monday, Eldad, Ariel and Edelstein had hoped to legally tour the area along with reporters. The army initially refused the MKs' request to enter Homesh, but eventually relented. When the MKs arrived at a military base next to a roadblock leading to Homesh, they were told that they and their parliamentary aides could enter the former settlement, but that the half-dozen reporters on the bus had to remain behind. The soldiers at the base cited security reasons, even though they had granted permission to the rest of the group and had offered to take them up in a heavily armored vehicle. Initially Eldad suggested that the MKs go to Homesh and report back to the press. But Ro'i Sharon of Ma'ariv pointed out that it was illogical for the army to allow the MKs to enter the site while banning reporters. He argued that in a free society, it was important to allow the press to enter the site to report to the public what was going on there. He asked the MKs to take the army's ban seriously and to refuse to go up as well. "You have to deal with it as if you have been denied access," Sharon argued. The MKs agreed. "We came here together, and we will stay together," said Edelstein. The MKs went a step further by promising to write a letter to the Knesset House Committee requesting an urgent debate on the matter. The IDF did not respond to further queries by The Jerusalem Post regarding the incident. The visit to Homesh is part of the MKs' effort to support the activists. In the Knesset this coming year, they hope to push for legislation to allow for Homesh to be rebuilt, since it has remained in Israeli hands. The activists from Homesh First, on their end, are planning a renewed push to publicize a return to the site and are caling for thousands of people to hike to the area during Succot.