Israeli settlers erect religious school in West Bank

AP , Ahram Online , Monday 29 May 2023

Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank said Monday they erected a religious school in a dismantled outpost after Israel's government lifted a ban on settlements in several evacuated areas in the northern part of the Palestinian occupied territory.

Israeli settlements
File photo: Israeli soldiers guard the road leading to the Homesh Yeshiva (religious school), located at the former settlement of Homesh, west of the West Bank city of Nablus, on Dec. 30, 2021. AFP

The school was built Sunday in Homesh, one of four West Bank outposts evacuated as part of Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip after Israel's government -- headed by Ariel Sharon -- passed a 2005 law banning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

However, on 21 March, Israel’s far-right government voted to repeal the law on the Knesset floor by 31 to 18 in the 120-seat assembly. 

The UN Security Council has repeatedly expressed its "dismay" with plans by Israel's hard-right government to retroactively legalize settlements in occupied Palestinian lands, warning that such measures "impede peace."

Anti-settlement groups say more settlement construction in those areas further dims any hopes for a contiguous, independent Palestinian state. The U.S., Israel’s closest ally, has also voiced concern, saying it is “deeply troubled” by moves to resettle the area. 

Video on social media showed settler leaders dedicating the religious school, a single-floor structure, with a prayer and saying they hoped to rebuild the other evacuated settlements as well.

Palestinian presidential spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said that "all Israeli settlements built on the land of the State of Palestine, including the formerly evacuated Homesh settlement iare illegal, stressing that the continuation of the aggressin will not achieve security or peace for anyone".

Abu Rudeineh stressed that Israel is acting "in a defiance of the will of the international community, particularly the US administration’s position regarding the unacceptable return of settlers to Homesh".

“Statements of condemnation and denunciation are no longer sufficient to confront the actions of the extremist right-wing (Israeli) government,” said Abu Rudeineh.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it is closely monitoring all developments in this matter in coordination with the International Criminal Court, aiming to ensure that the occupying state is held accountable for these actions.

Homesh has been at the center of settler efforts to deepen Israel's hold on the northern West Bank. Settlers have long maintained a presence in the outpost despite the 2005 act, setting up tents and other structures on the foundations of former homes. The military at times demolished those structures, but it largely ignored the settlers' existence at the outpost, which was built on private Palestinian land.

Israel's government has made settlement building one of its top priorities. The ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is made up of ultranationalist settler supporters, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also has some authority over West Bank settlements. Israeli occupation Army Radio reported the Homesh religious seminary was built with approval from Smotrich and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

In the 1970s, Israel established a network of settlements across the occupied West Bank, particularly in areas deemed strategic.

The Oslo Accords of the 1990s divided the territory into Israeli- and Palestinian-administered zones meant to lay the ground for a future Palestinian state, but Israel continued to build and expand its settlements.

The United Nations and most of the international community see Israeli settlements, home to 700,000 people in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as illegal and obstacles to peace.

The continued expansion of settlements comes amid a recent surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence that has led to near-daily attacks on the West Bank and East Jerusalem by the Israeli military and settlers. 

On Monday, Israeli settlers, from the illegal Homesh settlement, attacked the town of Burqa, northwest of Nablus, and set palm trees on fire, according to Ghassan Daghlas, a local official speaking to WAFA.

Residents confronted the settlers and forced them to leave the area as they worked to put off the fire.

According to Daghlas "ever since the settlers have been allowed to return to Homesh attacks on the Palestinian town have intensified and become almost daily.

Earlier on Friday, a Palestinian man was shot and killed in a settlement located near Hebron, which is a frequent site of friction between Palestinian residents and Israeli settlers.

On the same day, settlers attacked and injured several Palestinian farmers and torched five vehicles and cropland in the village of Al-Mughayyir near the city of Ramallah, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

Since the start of the year, Israeli forces and settlers have killed no fewer than 156 Palestinians, including at least 19 children, according to a tally compiled from official sources.

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