'With God's Help, We Will Return Legally': Israeli Settlers Quietly Leave Illegal Outpost

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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The large Star of David that was mounted by settlers at Evyatar on Friday as they departed the outpost
The large Star of David that was mounted by settlers at Evyatar on Friday as they departed the outpost Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

Evyatar residents left the outpost without commotion on Friday afternoon, in accordance with a compromise struck with the government earlier this week, but expressed high hopes that they will return to the hilltop settlement following the government's review of the status of the land.

Before departing, the settlers erected a large Star of David on the site, as well as street signs, in anticipation of their return.

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According to the compromise deal approved on Thursday by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the settlers will leave the outpost, but the houses will remain in place, as the state re-examines the status of the land. If it turns out that the outpost can be legalized, the residents will be able to return "as soon as possible." The deal also stipulates that an army post will be established at the site.

The plan was not submitted to the cabinet for approval, as the Prime Minister and Defense Minister are authorized to approve it on their own.

"The feeling is that we are leaving for a temporary period," said Ayelet Schlissl, who lived in the outpost with her husband and five daughters after moving there from Ariel.

"The houses are still standing, they exist and are waiting for us for the moment we return. I trust the tests that are done about this place, and know that there is no reason not to decide to return. It is clear to me that the other party to the agreement, certainly if that party is the Israeli government, will comply with it."

Another resident of the outpost, Amichai Ben-David, said that despite the belief that they would return, "it is very difficult to leave." He lived in the outpost with his wife and two young children after moving there from Kiryat Arba.

Asked whether he trusts the agreement reached with the government, Ben-David replied: "Is there any doubt whatsoever that if the prime minister and the defense minister committed to something in an official document, it will not materialize? Certainly, most of the land is state land. It has received the approval of the attorney general, only [land] surveys need to be conducted."

"With God's help, we will return here soon in a legal, official manner," Ben-David added.

Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, which includes the Evyatar outpost, said: "We are leaving today in pain, but with our heads held high, because we know that we will return to Evyatar very soon, as will a lawful yeshiva, and after that a glorious settlement will be established here by the government."

Evyatar residents put up a road sign on Friday as they depart the outpost Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

"The agreement here is a new direction in Judea and Samaria," Dagan continued: "In 2021 too, the Israeli government is joining in and subject to a legal procedure wants to establish a new settlement in Samaria."

As the evacuation of Evyatar was underway, Palestinians gathered to continue demonstrating against the outpost and the Israeli army used tear gas and other means to disperse the protesters. Dozens of demonstrators sustained injuries after inhaling smoke and tear gas, according to Palestinian reports.      

On Tuesday, Palestinians claiming ownership of the land on which the outpost was built appealed to the attorney general, demanding that he not approve the compromise deal, and asserting that if their request was not agreed to, they will consider petitioning the High Court of Justice.

According to the petitioners, the plan's purpose is to circumvent the eviction order and reflects a "surrender to aggressive invaders and the granting of a reward to construction criminals."  They also assert that the plan is illegal, as it violates the property rights of Palestinians and constitutes a violation of the rule of law. 

The left-wing Meretz party said on Thursday that it would not support extending the temporary amendment to the Citizenship Law, which blocks Palestinian spouses of Israelis from gaining Israeli citizenship, in response to the deal the Israeli government reached with the residents of the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Evyatar.

Evyatar residents unload a Star of David that was brought to and mounted at the outpost on Friday, in the run-up to their departure Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Meretz said it opposed the compromise with the Evyatar settlers, and was never consulted on the matter. 

Meretz ministers have presented their demand that the government halt house demolitions in Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood and in Bedouin communities in Israel's south following the approval of the Evyatar compromise. "Evyatar is a wild outpost intended to offend and to create provocation," Horowitz said on Thursday.

On Monday, Haaretz reported that senior members of the defense establishment were surprised to learn about the agreement reached with the settlers, considering that security officials have consistently maintained that allowing the unauthorized outpost to remain in place would have serious security implications.

They assert that the deal runs counter to the position voiced by high-ranking members of Israeli intelligence and the Israeli army's Central Command that the outpost should be evacuated immediately to avoid an escalation in the West Bank. According to one senior official, "the decision to reach an agreement with Evyatar residents was made beyond the security echelon."

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