This article was published in partnership with Local Call.
The murder of Yehuda Dimentman by Palestinians two weeks ago has brought Homesh, the West Bank settlement outpost he called his home, back into the Israeli public consciousness. The outpost was built on the ruins of another settlement of the same name just north of Nablus, which was evacuated as part of the 2005 Gaza “disengagement.” For Palestinians in the area, the outpost has for years been a symbol and source of daily settler violence.
The Israeli logic behind originally dismantling Homesh, which was one of four West Bank settlements evacuated during the disengagement, was that it was an isolated community surrounded by Palestinian villages and cities which required more resources than it was strategically worth. Yet, despite the 2005 Disengagement Law, which forbids Israelis from entering areas that were evacuated in that operation, settlers began returning to the location and established a new outpost.
Today, a few dozen Jewish students attend the yeshiva built on the site, and several families sleep in a number of tents and shacks that make up the outpost. The Israeli authorities demolish the makeshift structures every few months, yet do not prevent the settlers from returning or rebuilding.
Homesh is located north of the Palestinian village of Burqa on Route 60, the central road going through the occupied West Bank, in the section that connects Nablus to Jenin. To reach the outpost, settlers travel about 7.5 miles between Palestinian villages with hardly any soldier or settler presence. Had the army wanted to prevent settlers from reaching the outpost, it could have easily placed a number of soldiers on the road leading to the area.
In the years since the disengagement, Palestinian landowners have filed lawsuits to allow the military to access the area, and even protect them from settler violence. In 2011, the landowners petitioned the Israeli High Court, demanding the revocation of a military order issued in the 1970s to seize the land. The High Court accepted the petition in 2013.
The Palestinian landowners arrived in the area with tractors to begin reworking the land they had lost more than three decades earlier. Yet eight years later, Israel still makes access to the site difficult for Palestinians. In 2017, the Israeli army issued a demarcation order banning anyone from entering the area, claiming it was preparing to evacuate the outpost. The order did not exclude the Palestinian landowners, and thus barred them, too, from reaching their plots.
Following another petition to the High Court in 2019, the army said the demarcation order would no longer prevent Palestinians from entering the area. Yet when the residents tried to reach their land, soldiers were there to prevent their entry; on a number of occasions, settlers also chased away Palestinians.
Between 2017 and 2021, the Israeli anti-occupation NGO Yesh Din, which filed repeated petitions to the High Court on behalf of the residents, documented 27 settler attacks in the Homesh area, including both physical bodily violence and property damage. In August this year, settlers from the outpost abducted and tortured a Palestinian teenager, burning his legs and hanging him from a tree, until he was found by the army and returned to his family.
In November, as Palestinian farmers attempted once again to reach their land, settlers from the outpost attacked them by opening fire, throwing stones, and spraying pepper spray, wounding a number of Palestinians. These figures do not include the violent attacks that have taken place since Dimentman’s killing earlier this month, which saw settlers throwing stones, attacking homes, and destroying tombstones in nearby Palestinian villages.
According to Yesh Din, only nine of the many Palestinians who were attacked over the last four years lodged a complaint with the Israeli police. One of those complaints is still under investigation; the other eight were closed without indictments. In addition to these complaints, Yesh Din has contacted the Israeli authorities over many other cases of settler violence in the area over the past few years. These include complaints against Rabbi Elishama, the head of Homesh’s yeshiva, and others for breaching military orders; demands to stop construction at the outpost; and calls to investigate other forms of violence.
Since Dimentman’s murder, the leadership of the settlement movement, along with right-wing Knesset members, have tried to pressure the Israeli government not only to refrain from evacuating the outpost, but to go even further by legalizing it. The public campaign for Homesh culminated last Thursday, when about 10,000 settlers and right-wing activists, including MKs and young yeshiva students, marched to the outpost. Several groups in the crowd sang racist, anti-Arab songs as they marched by the nearby village of Burqa. In the days that followed, a number of young settlers were documented hanging an Israeli flag on a building in Burqa.
The army, which did not give official approval for the march, nonetheless allowed settlers to walk or take buses to Homesh — even though it is still meant to be off-limits to Israelis under the Disengagement Law. While the settlers marched freely, soldiers restricted Palestinian movement in the area, closing the main road from Nablus to Jenin to Palestinian traffic, and using dirt mounds to block entrances to villages like Burqa and Sebastia.
Following the murder, Palestinians faced days of violence from both settlers and soldiers. “There is no Palestinian police here, there is nothing. It’s just us against the army and the settlers,” said Khaled, a 22-year-old resident of Burqa. “We have a WhatsApp group for the young people here,” said Ahmad Ashkar, 25. “Settlers come down from Homesh, and we run over to drive them away. Then the army arrives and fires tear gas or rubber-coated bullets.” This, Ashkar says, has happened nearly every day since the murder.
Maha, like other Palestinians who live on the side of Burqa closest to Homesh, fled her home as the violence spiraled. “At night, settlers tried to break into our home — they kicked down the door and shattered the windows. It was terrifying. At the last minute, young Palestinians arrived, and the settlers ran off. I haven’t gone back since,” she said.
Meanwhile, the army set up its own base at the Homesh site, which includes tents, caravans, electrical equipment, and water tanks. Since Dimentman’s murder, the army has taken down a number of structures erected at the outpost, but has refrained from demolishing the yeshiva or removing the settlers.
Homesh is considered one of the most violent settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, and the explosion of unrest around it is taking place during a year of rising settler attacks. Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, a member of the Labor party, has made the fight against settler violence one of his top priorities, often earning him the wrath of the Israeli right.
While Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians, soldiers, and settlers is officially documented by the state, Israeli authorities do not always publish official data on settler violence in the West Bank. And when the numbers are published, there is often a discrepancy between the data put out by the military and the police.
Yesh Din researchers, meanwhile, have documented 540 incidents of settler violence in the last 3.5 years alone. In 238 of those cases, the organization represented Palestinians who chose to file a complaint with the police; of those cases, only 12 ended in indictments, 53 are still under investigation, and 173 were closed without indictments. According to Yesh Din, the Israeli police have failed to investigate 86 percent of the cases, closing them after investigators failed to locate the suspects or even gather evidence.
The focus on “settler violence,” however, often overshadows the larger reality of the everyday violence of the Israeli occupation. The very fact that settlers live in the West Bank is a direct product of mass land confiscation and military brutality perpetuated by the Israeli state against Palestinians, while it simultaneously supports Israelis in settling on Palestinian land throughout the territories. A recent report by the Israeli NGO B’Tselem describes how settler violence actively aids the state in taking over Palestinian land, and how 150 settler outposts were established with government support despite the fact that they are deemed “illegal” according to Israeli law.
Moreover, the conversation on settler violence, while crucial, should not overshadow the fact that most of the violence in the West Bank is meted out by the Israeli army, often in service of the settlers. A +972 and Local Call report earlier this year, for example, revealed how Israeli soldiers and settlers carried out a number of attacks against Palestinians in May; in many cases, soldiers were documented escorting and protecting settlers who assaulted, and in some cases killed, Palestinians. B’Tselem told +972 that the military has killed 77 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem this year, while settlers have killed two Palestinians.
Yuval Abraham contributed reporting to this article.