Evyatar Outpost Went Up Fast, and the Settlers Think Bennett Will Keep It There

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Ofra and Yedidia Efrati at their house being built at the Evyatar outpost, Thursday.
Ofra and Yedidia Efrati at their house being built at the Evyatar outpost, Thursday. Credit: Hadas Parush

Ofra and Yedidia Efrati arrived Thursday to inspect their new house under construction in the unauthorized outpost of Evyatar in the northern West Bank. The young couple, parents of four, live in the Alonei Shiloh outpost nearby and have invested 30,000 shekels ($9,200) in their new home – even though Evyatar was built illegally without permits.

In fact, demolition orders have been issued for the buildings, and a military order forbids construction there. According to the latest order, the residents were supposed to have been removed Monday.

Instead, it seems they’re moving in all the more. A month and a half since it was founded, Evyatar has been operating a day care center, a religious study hall and a small kiosk – and a road has been paved and street signs put up.

“We told ourselves that in the worst case, if they demolish it, the money that we put in would be our contribution to the very construction and presence here,” Ofra said.

She’s an architect, and Yedidia installs kitchen counters. The decision to move to Evyatar was partly a result of its location, they say.

Ofra grew up in nearby Yitzhar, Yedidia in the Jordan Valley, and they always dreamed of living in between the two places. During our interview a young man, white ritual fringes protruding from his shirt, continued with his work on the house, adding one large cinder block after another.

The religious study hall at the outpost.Credit: Hadas Parush

“When I was a girl, I happened to spend a few days in Gva’ot with my parents to grow [religiously] stronger, and at 16 my cousins and I had a group we called Founding a Settlement,” Ofra said. Gva’ot is an outpost southwest of Jerusalem.

In the end, a cousin of hers founded the outpost of Mahane Gadi in the northern West Bank. Her grandfather is Rabbi Menachem Felix, one of the first leaders of the Gush Emunim settler movement.

“My grandfather and grandmother asked, ‘How will you get by there?’ I told them that they seemed to have forgotten what they did,” Ofra said.

‘I’ll simply come back 10 minutes later’

Evyatar was established in early May after the killing of Yehuda Guetta, a 19-year-old who died in a drive-by shooting by a Palestinian at nearby Tapuah Junction. The outpost grew rapidly during the fighting with Gaza and the riotinfg in Israel, as police were deployed from the West Bank to mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

Soon after the outpost was founded, soldiers were deployed there to guard the residents and separate Evyatar from the nearby Palestinian town of Beita.

Evyatar. The sign reads "We're founding a new community!"Credit: Hadar Parush

In photos published in Haaretz last week, soldiers could be seen helping to build the outpost. Palestinians living in the nearby towns hold protests near the outpost, which lead to clashes with the army. At these demonstrations and clashes, soldiers have killed four Palestinians, two who were 15 and 16.

Rashit Ben Shaya, a 17-year-old from Kedumim in the northern West Bank, is part of the Evyatar core group of the Nahala movement, which is building the outpost. She studies at the Lehava Ulpana high school for girls in Kedumim, and in recent weeks she has been traveling back and forth between Evyatar and her home to study for her matriculation exams.

“We spent an entire year of preparations and events; there were women’s evenings here and a trip for families with the goal of connecting us even more to the place,” she said.

Ben Shaya refuses to prepare for an evacuation of the outpost. “If there is no choice and they take me down from here, I’ll simply come back 10 minutes later,” she said.

For now, she’s the leader of a group of teenage girls, some of whom live in the settlements, who are at the outpost for various amounts of time, trying to make it thrive and last.

“I need for you to get me girls to paint the preschool and put on a happening,” she told one of them. When one of the teenagers said she wanted to go home, another corrected her quickly and said, “Your home is here.”

Children at the outpost.Credit: Hadas Parush

The ground under Evyatar is defined by Israel as “survey land” – land that the army’s Civil Administration has not yet determined as privately owned or owned the state.

In the 1980s, a military camp was built there. In recent weeks, West Bank researcher Dror Etkes from the group Kerem Navot has presented aerial photographs from before the construction of the military camp; he says it’s clear that the land there before the outpost was put up had been cultivated.

But Evyatar’s residents say they have aerial photographs showing that the land had not been farmed. This question is critical because, according to the property laws in the West Bank, land that was worked for a number of years continuously is considered private land. The outpost is surrounded by olive trees cultivated by Palestinians from nearby villages.

‘The army protects us’

Yehuda Ben David, 24 from Kiryat Arba and a member of Nahala, moved to the house where he lives in Evyatar with his wife two weeks ago. “Until this week, there wasn’t a kitchen here,” he said. “Now we’ve received a donation of a refrigerator, and a family from Kedumim brought an oven.”

As to whether Evyatar’s residents are afraid of being so near a Palestinian village, he said: “We’re calm because the army protects us.”

Rashit Ben Shaya, 17, at Evyatar.Credit: Hadas Parush

He says the government should provide them with infrastructure. “We’re Zionist pioneers who are going to the front for the whole Jewish people,” he said. “Does that mean we don’t deserve water or electricity? We’re asking the state to provide us with basic needs.”

Ben David doesn’t want to talk about an eviction either. “If there’s an eviction there won’t be violence, but there will be intensive resistance,” he said.

Residents of Evyatar are trying not to be too critical of new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “Bennett is a patriot, and there’s no reason he’ll remove us,” Ben David said. “Also, anyone in the coalition can oppose an eviction; it’s enough for one of them to object and the eviction won’t pass.”

Zvi Sukkot, the Evyatar spokesman and an aide to Shomron Regional Council chief Yossi Dagan, has a similar view.

“Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are Zionist and moral; there’s no real reason to destroy a community in the Land of Israel except for giving in to terrorism,” he said. “Bennett was the director general of the Yesha Council [of settlements], and it’s obvious that I expect him not to demolish.”

Dagan recently moved his office to Evyatar and has consistently expressed his support for the outpost, while a raft of far-right politicians and mayors have visited. At the same time, the residents have appealed an order issued on Evyatar’s boundaries.

A street scene at the outpost.Credit: Hadas Parush

“We have no indication that there will be an eviction tomorrow; we’re not there,” Sukkot said.

Yedidia and Ofra Efrati knew about the possible eviction even before they started building their new home. “We aren’t in favor of violence,” Ofra said.

She has no expectations of Bennett, but Yedidia said the existence of  a new government could play in their favor because the new team won’t want to destabilize anything.

Ofra said: “The new government has less of a desire to mess things up, but I’m not particularly optimistic about Evyatar in the current constellation.”

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