Opinion |

Crime and Punishment in the West Bank Settlement of Homesh

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israeli soldiers stand between Palestinians and a Jewish settler following a settler attack on the West Bank village of Burqa, Friday.
Israeli soldiers stand between Palestinians and a Jewish settler following a settler attack on the West Bank village of Burqa, Friday.Credit: AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The crime is Homesh, the killing of Yehuda Dimentman is the punishment. Most Israelis see this differently, because this is what they’re told: One fine day a yeshiva student is murdered through no fault of his own, only because he was a Jew and his bloodthirsty killers were born to kill. The Palestinians are always in the role of the villains; the Jews are always the victims.

This is a comforting version, but it has no connection to reality. If there is anywhere in the West Bank where an attack didn’t come out of nowhere, without reason or context, Homesh is that place. If there is any place where the Palestinians have no way to reclaim their land except by violence, Homesh is that place. And if there is any place where the settlers, the right wing, the government and the army are doing everything they can to bring about this bloodshed, Homesh is that place. Dimentman’s blood is on their hands too.

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“Why, why, why?” the settler Ariel Danino from Kumi Uri lamented on Twitter. Kumi Uri is an outpost whose inhabitants also attack soldiers and police. And so this is why: The Israeli government decided to evacuate Homesh during the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Eight years later, the High Court of Justice ordered the state to cancel the appropriation and closure orders on the area issued against the Palestinians. The settlers, backed by the army, the government and the right wing, established a yeshiva there.

For years, we tried to approach Homesh a number of times. Armed, masked settlers always emerged from that pure house of Torah and chased us away with threats. Their rabbi looked on from afar and did not intervene. When we came there after the High Court ruling together with a few landowners from Burqa, they didn’t dare get out of their car. I’ve never seen Palestinians so frightened as this group of farmers, who for 35 years have not been permitted to go onto their land. For a moment, there was hope that belated justice would be done, then when they were supposedly allowed to return, they didn’t dare leave their car for fear of the settlers.

Since March 2020, B’Tselem has documented seven assaults by those children of Torah from Homesh. They attacked women and a baby, injured elderly and young shepherds and vandalized cars and homes in the neighboring Palestinian village of Silat al-Dhahr.

About four months ago they caught a 15-year-old Palestinian, Tareq Zubeidi, who had dared to go picnicking with his friends near this school of unbridled violence, and they tortured him. He said they beat him, bound him and kicked him as he lay bound, tied him to the hood of their car and then threw him off it, and after that they tied him by his arms from a tree and burned the soles of his feet with a lighter. They had emerged from the yeshiva, they were apparently Dimentman’s friends.

All these years the right wing held showcase demonstrations at Homesh, with the participation of government ministers and MKs. The IDF didn’t lift a finger, as usual. Since 2013 the IDF spokesman has been promising Haaretz with its usual lip service: “Entry by Palestinians to the land will be decided upon in accordance with their connection to ownership.” Of course, the IDF has never checked the “connection to ownership” by the settler thugs. And so there is no one left to carry out the government decisions and enforce the High Court rulings, nor is there anyone to return the land to the hapless farmers of Burqa. It’s enough to drive you mad.

The Palestinians have two remaining options: to give up, as the farmers of Burqa used to do, or try to reclaim their land and the remnants of their dignity by force. That is what Dimentman’s killers were apparently trying to do,

What would you advise the Palestinians to do? What would you do in their place? To our horror, this won’t help them either. Coming soon: the return to Homesh. Spoiler: south of Homesh is the outpost of Evyatar. Nine Palestinians have already paid with their lives in protests over the theft of land there. There, too, Israel is outsmarting the system by establishing a “yeshiva.” Soon a bloodthirsty terrorist will try to strike at the settlers there too; then Israel will lament, play the victim and weep over its bitter fate in the face of this cruel Palestinian terror.

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