Until a few years ago, the small settlement of Harasha in the western part of the northern West Bank was defined as an outpost.
Harasha, on a hill 780 meters above sea level with a view of the Mediterranean coast, has a population of 30 families. When Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon was deputy chief of staff, he very much wanted to have a position on this strategic hill, and recommended manning it with civilians or soldiers.
During Sharon's term as infrastructure minister, residents of the Talmonim-Dolev bloc invited him to tour the area. Sharon brought then-deputy housing minister Meir Porush along, with an entourage of officials. Next to the reservoir at Talmonim, Sharon turned to a legal adviser, Ahaz Ben-Ari, and pointed to a bald hill to the east. "That is a strategic point of the first order. It should be held. We will build a reservoir first." Mekorot officials among the entourage tried to explain that the hill was too high and water pressure would be a problem. But Sharon was insistent. "I trust you. Solve the problem." Then explained half-humorously to the settlers, "You'll put a guard at the reservoir. The guard is sure to get lonely. He'll get married and have a family. The kids need company. Other families will come. There will be a prayer quorum, and a prayer quorum needs a synagogue. Women need a ritual bath. Kids need kindergartens and parks. That's how we'll turn the Harasha into a settlement."
Within a few years, Sharon's vision became a reality. During Barak's term in office, development was "frozen" but Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, defense minister in Sharon's first government, "thawed it out." Other strategic hilltops like Harasha were settled, along with points near essential junctions.
Strategic outposts of a slightly different kind were established to create contiguity of Jewish settlement, to prevent the evacuation of isolated settlements and to connect them, through the outpost, with larger settlement blocs or those more in the consensus. About 10 families or less live in each of these "connecting outposts."
In "greater Itamar," as the settlers call the chain of outposts, six in all, around the settlement of Itamar, the outposts look like a large agricultural settlement. Most of the settlers grow organic vegetables, some teach in area yeshivas or Talmud Torah schools. Many of Itamar's residents are newly religious; some hail from the veteran pioneering community Kinneret or various moshavim.
Six years ago the settlers built an unpaved road connecting the six outposts to Gitit in the Jordan Valley. During the Barak government, in 2000, the outposts were given retroactive legal status, the road was paved, and one outpost, Givat Hahayil, was moved to bring it into compliance with the settlement master plan. The easternmost of the six, Hill 777, is 7.5 kilometers from Itamar. In Itamar they hope the link with the Jordan Valley, an area more in the consensus, will help them when final borders are discussed.
Shiloh and Shvut Rachel are among the other mountain settlements linked to the Jordan Valley via the older outposts of Ahiya and Adei Ad. Elon Moreh has branched out via Hill 792 (Shkali's farm). There are three settlements east of Area A (under full Palestinian control) in the central part of the northern West Bank: Eli in the north, Ma'aleh Levonah to the west, and Shiloh to the east. In recent years a semi-circle of outposts has been built connecting these three settlements: Nof Harim, Palgai Mayim, Hakaron, Givat Harel, and Haroeh. This is an attempt to create a large bloc of Jewish-owned land in the hope of connecting it to Shvut Rachel and its six settlements (Ahiya, Adei Ad, Esh Kadosh, the Red House, Hill 805 and Hill 704).
Nofei Nehemiya is another "connecting outpost" linking Rachelim and Ariel. In a discussion in his office Sharon defined this outpost as having strategic importance. The settlers also see Havat Gilad, halfway between Yizhar and Kedumim, as a connecting outpost, as Ramot Gilad and Alonei Shiloh are seen as connecting Karnei Shomron and Immanuel.
The settlers consider Megaron and Givat Asaf as connecting and strategic outposts. Megaron is on a peak overlooking a junction east of which are the settlements of Michmash and Kokhav Hashahar, with Psagot and Kokhav Yaakov to the west. Givat Asaf connects Ofra to Jerusalem, Kokhav Yaakov and Psagot.
In the southern West Bank, a road connects Susya in the east to the settlement of Shema in the west. There is no Jewish population along this road, and so the connecting outpost of Asael was founded. The outpost of Sde Kalev was built on the road from Kiryat Arba south to Karmel. An attempt was also made to build an outpost at Antenna Hill near the Zif junction, where about 18 months ago security guard Yehudah Ben-Yosef and a soldier, Yoav Dadon, were killed mistakenly by IDF fire. Antenna Hill was to connect the settlements of Pnai Hever and Beit Haggai, south of Kiryat Arba, with the Maon settlement bloc.
Most of the outposts in Gush Etzion were created to increase Jewish population, but some of them have connecting purposes as well, for example the outpost at Derech Haavot near Alon Shvut. Rabbi Yaakov Madan of Alon Shvut explained in the settler publication Nekudah that the outpost "put an end to the attempt by a number of Bedouin families to drift into the area between the settlements of Gush Etzion to drive a wedge between them and when the day comes, to separate them."
"All through the years, the political level believed that contiguous settlement can and should be created," explained Adi Mintz, until recently director-general of the Yesha council of settlements. "These are not `hilltop youth.' The outposts were carfully planned and coordinated with the prime minister. Even Ben-Eliezer approved them. So the process of licensing the outposts has already begun. At one stage Sharon changed his attitude 180 degrees, at which point the system stopped cooperating. We are not lawbreakers and we are not the bad guy in this story."