In the past month, in the heart of a Palestinian rural area south of Nablus in the West Bank, a new/old outpost called Evyatar is being constructed and expanded. Although only a short period of time has passed, there are already around 40 structures on the site. The massive construction is being carried out overtly, at the initiative of the Nahala settlement movement, which is providing financing and logistical assistance, and with the backing of the Samaria Regional Council. However, this past Sunday, two days after this article was first published in Hebrew, a military order was issued that is supposed to prevent entry to the site and to enable its demolition. The settlers vow to defy the order.
After a few unsuccessful efforts, the outpost is now being built on land belonging to the villages of Beita, Qabalan and Yatma, in close proximity to their orchards and stone terraces, on a hill that was the site of an army base in the 1980s. Last month, during protests by villagers against the outpost, live fire by the Israeli army killed two young men from the village of Beita and wounded some 25 others. On Sunday the army blocked the main entrance to that village.
The general secretary of Nahala, Daniella Weiss – whom Haaretz was referred to by the outpost settlers, as their spokeswoman – said last Thursday that the outpost covers several dozen dunams as of now, but has the potential to expand to 600 dunams (about 150 acres). As of Sunday 46 families were already living there. Weiss said another 75 are hoping to join them soon.
Evyatar is located about 1.6 kilometers east of the Za’atara (Tapuah) Junction and according to the settlers’ Facebook page it “prevents the creation of a connection between the villages of Qabalan, Yatma and Beita” – but on the other hand, creates contiguity between the settlements of Tapuah, west of the Za’atara Junction, and Migdalim, about nine kilometers southeast of the junction.
The Civil Administration told Haaretz that the structures in Evyatar were erected “illegally, without the necessary permits.” In other words, without a decision by that body’s Supreme Planning Council and without a proper master plan – which means that the public did not have a chance to submit its objections. The administration also said that “enforcement will be carried out at the site in accordance with authorizations and regulations, and subject to operative considerations.”
Haaretz has learned that this kind of reply is given when military and/or political leaders intervene in order to prevent evacuation of a settlement, as evidenced by the many illegal and unauthorized agricultural outposts dotting the northern Jordan Valley: They have continued to expand in the past three or four years despite demolition orders against them.
Daniella Weiss confirmed that demolition orders for the Evyatar outpost were indeed issued, but “not for all the structures, because every day new ones are being built.” In other words, Civil Administration inspectors can’t keep up with the pace.
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A resident of Kiryat Arba who moved to Evyatar told Haaretz last Tuesday: “The Israelites left Egypt in haste, and Evyatar was built in haste.” And in fact, the residents of Qabalan and Beita report hearing heavy machinery operating day and night.
The Civil Administration did not reply to Haaretz's question about the legal status of the land.
Weiss claims that the property on which the outpost is being erected is in the process of being declared state land, within the area of jurisdiction of the Samaria Regional Council. When the military base was originally built on this site, an order was issued that green-lighted temporary seizure of the (privately owned) land for military purposes.
Villagers recall their parents and grandparents cultivating the local fields, and explain that since the evacuation of the military base in the 1990s, they were prohibited from building there because the site is in Israeli-controlled Area C, where Palestinians are not allowed to build – even on their own private land.
The outpost is named after Evyatar Borovsky, a resident of the settlement of Yitzhar who was murdered by a Palestinian in May 2013. Following his murder there were three attempts to build an outpost at the site – in 2013, 2016 and 2018 – but the mobile homes and other structures erected there were evacuated very quickly. This time – just hours after the shooting attack against three students of the yeshiva in the settlement of Itamar, on May 2 – settlers began to set up awnings, mobile homes and tents, all at once. After reports of the death of Yehuda Guetta, one of the students, it was decided to name the study hall after him.
‘No hut on a rocky hill’
When Haaretz asked why the authorities did not immediately evacuate the structures springing up this time, Weiss said that it’s due to a combination of the settlers’ daring and a deliberate decision to operate differently.
“If you take a risk and demonstrate daring, you increase the chances [of succeeding],” she said, adding that the Nahala movement and the settlers decided that they did not want "a hut on a rocky hill, but a mass, with concrete blocks immediately, with heavy equipment immediately – in a big way.”
Weiss added that right after the May 2 attack, military forces were preoccupied with the search for the shooter, which is how the opportunity was created at Evyatar.
“It’s not that someone gave us freedom of movement,” she says, “but a situation arose, and families started to arrive. And then the war [between Israel and Hamas, in the Gaza Strip] broke out.” In other words, another factor that kept the army busy.
Weiss was not aware of the report in the daily Maariv on January 11 to the effect that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a directive asking that the Supreme Planning Council approve the construction of 400 additional residential units in Beit El, Evyatar, Shavei Shomron and other settlements.
Some of the structures brought into Evyatar are mobile homes that have seen better days; other buildings have been assembled on site from prefab components (such as walls, windows, closets and so on), and there are several concrete structures as well. Last week the settlers started paving the internal streets with asphalt. Last Tuesday the parking lot was still unpaved; by Thursday it was covered with asphalt.
Piles of plywood were lying on the ground – awaiting assembly. In addition to the study hall, and a small grocery which is supposed to become a supermarket, there is already a nursery school with a small playground and a swath of artificial grass.
Last Tuesday many children could be seen, as well as about 10 women and some 20 to 30 young men, most of them armed with rifles or pistols, “but not all of them,” says Weiss. “If only there were more armed men.”
There is no fence around the outpost, an approach that she says is in keeping with her decades-old philosophy, implemented in her own settlement, Kedumim – to the effect that fencing is a sign of fear and weakness. Nor were any soldiers seen at the outpost on Tuesday. Weiss says that they were in Beita. According to a post on the website Hakol Hayehudi, the “Israeli canine unit” – a private organization based in the settlement of Tapuah – sent guard dogs and their handlers to Evyatar, along with technological means of protection.
Some 90 percent of the work going on at the outpost is being done on a voluntary basis, Weiss says; low wages are being paid to those hired to work. Nahala is responsible for bringing in the heavy machinery (shovels, a cement mixer, and so on). During the first days at the site, residents of the surrounding Palestinian villages noticed that uniformed troops were helping with the construction. Weiss says they were apparently soldiers “who saw and became enthusiastic about building the land – soldiers who are often bored and are happy when there’s action. But there’s no need, because there are loads of young people who are working here.”
A crowdsourcing campaign directed by Zvi Sukkot, an associate of the head of the Samaria Regional Council, a member of the hard-right Otzma Yehudit party and a spokesman for the settlement of Yitzhar – has brought in donations totaling about 1,200,000 shekels (about $370,000). The settling "cell" registered for Evyatar is one of seven organized by Nahala. Weiss adds that a number of families with eight or nine children have moved to the outpost (they have been allocated concrete structures, which are larger than the mobile homes). Two of the families in the cell are from Petah Tikva and the rest from West Bank settlements.
Many people supporting the effort at Evyatar have made pilgrimages to the site, including the rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu; Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of the Samaria Regional Council, Rabbi Shimon Rosenzweig of Tapuah; MKs Miki Zohar (Likud) and Amichai Shikli (Yamina); and members of the Bnei Akiva youth movement. Last Shabbat residents hosted hundreds of supporters.
MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) turned to Defense Minister Benny Gantz on May 3, the day the establishment of the outpost was declared, and demanded its immediate evacuation in order to prevent an escalation of tensions. He traveled to the village of Beita “in order to ask permission from the legal landowners to go up [to the outpost] in order to see what was happening on their land, and to console them in their mourning.” Raz told Haaretz that his letter to Gantz, which warned about the crime being perpetrated by the settlers “was totally ignored and has not been answered to this day. Settlements are a war crime that must not be ignored.”