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Gaza Strip and Israeli Settlement Homesh

Israel Update – Week of May 21, 2023

Homesh: In August of 2005, Israel evacuated all twenty-one of its settlements in the Gaza Strip along with four settlements in Northern Samaria: Homesh, Sa-Nur, Ganim and Kadim. Families were forcibly evicted from their homes, which were subsequently demolished. The evacuation was the brain-child of then-Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. Implementing the euphemism “Disengagement,” Sharon believed that by removing all Israelis from Gaza, the local Gazan government would have no more bones to pick with the Israelis and could get down to the business of governing. Sharon also believed that removing any Israeli presence from Gaza would buttress Israel’s world standing. A former high-ranking official in the Bush White House once told me in private conversation that the four settlements in Northern Samaria were actually thrown in by the U.S. almost as an afterthought in an attempt to give the Palestinian Authority (PA) the image of power.

Fast forward eighteen years and the evacuation has turned out to be a colossal mistake. In 2007, Gaza was democratically taken over by the terror organization, Hamas, who, along with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, have since waged six wars against Israel.

Nearly twenty-thousand rockets have been fired at the Israelis home front with Iron Dome intercepting more than 5,500 of them.

Without boots on the ground, Israel can no longer enter Gazan cities and destroy rocket launching infrastructure. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) must rely upon Iron Dome, intelligence, and some well-placed bombs to keep the wolves at bay. More than nine thousand Israeli “settlers” paid for this mistake with their homes and their livelihood. The worst part of the mistake was the evacuation of the settlements in northern Samaria. These were removed for essentially no reason and no tangible benefit and have remained “closed military areas” since the evacuation. Israelis continue to live in Northern Samarian settlements like Tal Menashe, Shaked, and Shavei Shomron, which lie only a few miles from the gutted shells of the evacuated towns.

In March 2023, the Israeli Knesset took the first step in rebuilding the four northern Samarian towns evacuated in 2005 by repealing the disengagement law that bans Israelis from living in those communities. “There is no longer any justification to prevent Israelis from entering and staying in the evacuated territory in northern Samaria, and therefore, it is proposed to state that these sections [of the disengagement law] will no longer apply to the evacuated territory,” reads the introductory text to the legislation. The law erases “to some extent” “the stain on the garment of the State of Israel” left by the disengagement, it continues. “Better late than never,” we Israelis often say.

After the Knesset approved the law, the return of Israelis to these areas became subject to approval by the military. Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant instructed Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox (General Fox is the son of an American rabbi whose teachings have had a seminal effect on my own life), head of the IDF Central Command, to sign an order that could allow Jews to once again live in Homesh.

The movement to repeal the disengagement in Homesh has been met by American consternation: "We are deeply troubled by the Israeli government's order that allows its citizens to establish a permanent presence in the Homesh outpost in the northern West Bank, which according to Israeli law was illegally built on private Palestinian land," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement. “The order is inconsistent with Israeli government commitments made in 2004 and more recently to Biden administration officials,” Miller said. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the order in question was intended to allow Israelis to keep attending an existing Yeshiva (religious school) in Homesh and that the government has no intention of rebuilding the settlement or allowing an Israeli presence on private Palestinian land.

It is unclear what the U.S. finds problematic: that the Israelis are considering rebuilding Homesh, that they are considering building it on private Palestinian land, or both. In a scathing Op-ed, Stephen Flatow excoriates the U.S. for its excoriation of Israel: “The U.S. State Department says it is ‘deeply troubled’ that the Israeli government has lifted a ban on Jews living in the community of Homesh. Well, I’m deeply troubled that the State Department is deeply troubled.” Flatow continues: “Nothing in the Oslo Accords required Israel to withdraw from the entire Gaza Strip or to dismantle all the Jewish communities there. And nothing in them obligated Israel to withdraw from any Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, either. But Sharon had a majority in the Knesset, so those withdrawals went ahead. That’s democracy. Last year, a majority of Israelis voted for political parties that believe the dismantling of those four Samaria communities was wrong, so the new government has partially reversed that 2005 decision. And that’s democracy, too.” Flatow accuses the Biden Administration of having insufficient respect for Israel’s democratic system. It expects Israel to continue making concessions even though facts on the ground have shown that it is no longer in Israel’s best interests to do so. Flatow concludes, “In short, this is an argument about much more than Homesh. It’s really about whether Israel will be constantly pressured to make more concessions; whether agreements such as Oslo are worth even the paper they are written on; and whether Israel will once again be confined to an area so narrow and vulnerable that even the dovish Israeli statesman Abba Eban famously said: ‘It has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz.’ ”

The U.S. is experiencing other problems with Israeli democracy as of late. In a recent post we described U.S. concerns over the Netanyahu government’s impending judicial reform. Elliot Abrams, who has served in foreign policy positions for presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, summarizes things succinctly: “The current struggle over judicial reform has many aspects. The decision of those who oppose reform to invite, indeed to plead for, American intervention in this complex and fateful internal contest damages Israeli sovereignty and self-government. One can only hope that when the dust has settled, Israelis will – whatever their views on the supreme court – come to agree that the appeal to foreign intervention over the Jewish State’s internal political structures was a damaging mistake and a dangerous precedent.”

Wishing you a quiet week,

Ari Sacher

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