BURQA, West Bank: The Jewish settlement of Homesh, built on privately owned Palestinian land deep inside the occupied West Bank, was dismantled in 2005 and cannot be rebuilt. At least, that’s what Israeli law says.
But when a group of settlers drove up to the site last week, they were waved through army checkpoints that were closed to Palestinian vehicles and arrived at a cluster of tents on the windy hilltop. There, dozens of settlers were studying in a makeshift yeshiva, or religious school.
Empty wine bottles and bags of trash stood out for collection, the remains of a holiday feast attended by hundreds of settlers the night before and documented on social media.
The settlers’ ability to maintain a presence at Homesh, guarded by a detachment of Israeli soldiers, is a vivid display of the power of the settler movement nearly 55 years after Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.
Their strength has also been on display in a wave of attacks against Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in recent months, many in plain view of Israeli soldiers, who appear unable or unwilling to stop them, despite Israeli officials’ promises to maintain law and order. The worst of the violence has been linked to hard-line settler outposts like Homesh.
That Israeli authorities have not cleared Homesh — which under Israeli law is blatantly illegal — makes it nearly impossible to imagine the removal of any of Israel’s 130 officially authorized settlements as part of any future peace deal. Nearly 500,000 settlers now live in those settlements, as well as dozens of unauthorized outposts like Homesh.