Four settlers go on hunger strike over outposts

Residents of Amona pitch protest tent near the Knesset, demonstrating against outpost demolition plans.

(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF )
Yehuda Yifrach had not eaten for almost 24 hours as he sat in a protest tent near the Knesset on Wednesday.
The 35-year-old plans to sit in the tent, without food, until the government backs away from its plan to demolish four outposts this year, including Amona, near the Ofra settlement, where he has lived for 12 years.
The hunger strike was a spontaneous idea, which came to Yifrach only last Friday.
“I decided I had to do it,” said Yifrach who is slim, brown-haired and soft-spoken.
He told his family and Rabbi Yair Frank of Amona of his plan. He also asked for a vacation from his job as an editor at the Hebrew newspaper Makor Rishon, so that it would be clear it was a private initiative that had no connection to his work there.
Yifrach was so persuasive as he spoke with Frank, 37, that the rabbi agreed to join him. On Tuesday afternoon they stopped eating. By Wednesday morning, Dvir Raz, 31, of Amona and Lizanit Riklin, 45, of the Ma’aleh Michmash settlement also joined them on a hunger strike.
MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union) is likely to join them on Sunday along with his spokesman Harel Cohen.
On Wednesday afternoon, all four sat in the protest tent, making phone calls and working on a computer to solicit support for their cause.
They hope that the hunger strike, which does not include liquids, won’t last past Wednesday, when the Knesset is set to hold a preliminary vote on two bills to retroactively legalize West Bank outposts, submitted by Katz and MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi).
The legislation is considered the lastditch effort to save at least two of the outposts, Ulpana on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement and Migron, which is located near the Psagot and Kochav Ya’acov settlements.
The High Court of Justice has ordered the state to demolish five apartment buildings, home to 30 families, in Ulpana by July 1. It has also ordered the evacuation of the entire Migron outpost, home to 50 families, by August 1.
Netanyahu has opposed the outpost legislation, and as of Wednesday evening, had yet to free ministers to vote their conscience, instead requiring them to follow coalition discipline. Orlev’s and Katz’s offices have said that the bills can only pass with ministerial support.
Separately, the state has also promised the High Court that it would demolish the Mitzpe Assaf outpost, located outside the Beit El settlement, by July 1 and that it would evacuate the Amona outpost by the end of the year.
The state considers all four outposts to have been built without permits on private Palestinian property. Although there are other outposts and settler homes in a similar situation, it has been forced to act against these four outposts, because Peace Now and Yesh Din petitioned the High Court against them.
Since no final court judgments have been issued with respect to Mitzpe Assaf and Amona, it is possible that the state will request a delay.
Still, in interviews with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Yifrach, Frank and Raz all said they could no longer live under the constant threat that their homes could be demolished.
“The fateful hour is now,” said Yifrach. “We have gotten to the point where our homes are burning.”
If the state is forced to act against Ulpana and Migron, he said, it can move against thousands of other homes in Judea and Samaria that were built without permits.
Katz has estimated that there are some 9,000 unauthorized Jewish homes in West Bank outposts and settlements.
“It is a second disengagement,” Yifrach said, referencing the Israel’s destruction of 21 Gazan settlements and four in northern Samaria in 2005.
He added that he knows how traumatic such an event can be, because he owned one of the nine stone homes in the Amona outpost, which the state destroyed on February 1, 2006.
“There is a moment when the sorrow is so great and the lack of justice so deep, that you feel as if you can not remain silent,” he said.Yifrach acknowledged that a hunger strike was an extreme action. But he said it came from a place of deep pain.
“There is so much political debate on this issue. People have forgotten that this is about the lives of men, women and children,” he said.
Raz said that as a father of three small children he had a responsibility to their future.
“In six months we will be thrown out onto the street. I do not have many more resources left to care for my family. This is the most drastic thing I can do before the bulldozer comes,” he said.
Peace Now and Yesh Din have said that it is important that the state uphold the rule of law and respect the independence of the judiciary. In the case of these four outposts specifically, they have said that the state should not sanction land theft.
All four hunger strikers said the issue had not been properly adjudicated. They noted that all four outposts had been constructed with money from the Construction and Housing Ministry. They added that even if the outposts were demolished, the land would not be returned to Palestinians, and the most just response would be to compensate the Palestinians claimants.
The issue, they said, was political and not legal. They added that Yesh Din and Peace Now were using the law to promote their agenda of an Israeli withdrawal to the pre- 1967 lines.
Riklin, a social worker and a mother of three, said she decided to spontaneously join the hunger strike in solidarity with the outpost residents and out of a deep understanding of the danger forced evacuations posed to the settlement enterprise.
Yifrach said he was hopeful the bill will pass on Wednesday and has not thought about what it means if it is rejected.
“A person has to live with faith and optimism that logic will win out,” he said.