Explained: Israel’s ‘Compromise’ Evacuation of an Illegal Outpost – What the Settlers Achieved

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Jewish settlers in the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, June 2021.
Jewish settlers in the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, June 2021.Credit: Moti Milrod
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

After weeks of tension surrounding the illegal outpost of Evyatar, its residents said Monday they would accept the compromise advanced by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. According to the plan – which according to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is not yet a done deal – the settlers will leave the outpost by the end of this week but the houses will remain and an army post will go up.

The government will examine whether the land there belongs to Palestinians or whether it can be defined as state land fit for settling. It was also agreed that a yeshiva will be launched there, though political sources say this can be done only after the land’s status becomes clear.

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Why is the compromise considered an achievement by the settlers?

The plan leaves an opening for approving the outpost that was set up against the law. By establishing facts on the ground, the settlers forced Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank to examine the status of the land. The launching of a yeshiva there would in effect create a permanent settlement.

Jewish settlers in the illegal Evyatar outpost in the West Bank, June 2021.Credit: Moti Milrod

In any case, according to the plan there will be a permanent military presence there; the outpost’s founders also consider this an accomplishment because for them this means a Jewish presence.

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now notes that a number of settlements originated with a compromise between the settlers and the government. For example, the settlers who were evacuated from Sebastia in the ‘70s were allowed to live at the Kedumim military base and later branched out to start the settlement of the same name.

Another example is the outpost of Givat Asaf, which started out as a mourners’ tent in 2001 after Palestinians gunned down settler Asaf Hershkovitz near the settlement of Ofra. Settlers were allowed to remain there during the seven-day mourning period, but the outpost has remained ever since.

Evyatar’s spokespeople say that for them, Monday’s compromise is a painful one, as Gantz insists that it be evacuated. But it is believed that this declaration is designed to minimize the damage to Gantz as a result of the compromise.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a Knesset ceremony, earlier this month. Credit: Emil Salman

The question now is whether the plan is feasible, as buildings there cannot yet be put up legally. The settlers claim that because the hesder yeshiva – which combines Torah study with army service – is a military institution, it can be built there via a seizure order by the head of the army’s Central Command.

How was Evyatar established?

Until two months ago, the outpost was an empty hill near the Palestinian village of Beita, which is surrounded by olive trees belonging to residents of nearby Palestinian villages. A military base was also once located there. Since 2013 there have been several attempts to establish an outpost on the site, but each time the structures were evacuated. In early May, after 19-year-old Yehuda Guetta was shot dead at Tapuah Junction in the West Bank, settlers went to live there.

What’s behind the compromise plan?

Defense officials want the residents of outposts evicted to ease the burden of guarding other settlers and to free up troops to confront residents of the nearby village of Beita. Local Palestinians have established “nighttime harassment units,” burned tires, focused laser lights at outpost residents and marched in the area carrying torches, all to get the settlers to leave. As a result, the army sent in two companies last week as reinforcements.

Sources involved in the talks on the compromise describe it as a result of political pressure. “Bennett didn’t want pictures of an evacuation,” they say.

Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, the country's first kippah-wearing premier, during the swearing-in session of the Knesset earlier this monthCredit: Emil Salman

How does Evyatar differ from other outposts?

There are several types of outposts. First, there are the older ones, which the right calls “young settlements.” Most of these were established in the late ‘90s and the early 2000s, and some are now being legalized – whether as independent settlements or as neighborhoods in existing settlements, even if there is no contiguity. Outposts can be legalized if they are built on land defined as state land, or as “survey land,” whose status the government has yet to clarify but believes could one day be defined as state land.

In recent years, so-called farm outposts have become very common. These are based on a single family, a few teenagers who work on the farm and a few goats, sheep and cattle. The advantage here, the settlers believe, is that these outposts take up a lot of land through grazing and don’t require the presence of many residents. Outposts of this type are identified with the Amana movement headed by Ze’ev Hever, widely known by his nickname Zambish.

There are also outposts linked to “hilltop youth” radicals, which even in the settler community are considered non-establishment. These communities are sometimes built deliberately on private land, or in Area B, where planning rights belong to the Palestinian Authority. These outposts, which are usually based on temporary structures and are not supported by an established movement, are usually evacuated within a short time, return, and then the process repeats.

Evyatar is exceptional mainly because of its size. With the help of crowdfunding and anonymous donors, the settlers quickly built concrete houses and a road there, making it more formidable than other outposts. The settlers received the support of the head of the Shomron Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, who is considered to have great political influence.

Jewish settlers in the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, June 2021.Credit: Moti Milrod

How many outposts are there, and why doesn’t the government evacuate them?

According to Peace Now, there are currently 135 outposts and 132 recognized settlements. The outposts are there in violation of the law, and demolition orders are pending against many of them, which the government doesn’t enforce. When the Civil Administration is asked about that, it usually says that it is operating “according to its priorities.” The evacuation of an outpost is considered a sensitive matter and the political leaders often prefer to avoid it.

Over time and with little fanfare, 21 outposts have been approved, 18 of them as neighborhoods in existing settlements. In response to petitions against other outposts, the government declared that it plans to authorize them.

But sometimes this process encounters difficulties. That’s what happened with the outpost of Avigayil, whose access road passes through private Palestinian land. It’s also what happened with Mitzpeh Kramim, which was built on private land and which the government tried unsuccessfully to approve via “market regulation” – permitting outposts built on private land to remain there if the land was allotted in good faith.

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