Jewish settlers launch mass outpost construction operation

Israeli soldiers in the Jewish outpost of Evitar, in the village of Beita, north of Nablus (Ayman Ameen)

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  July 20, 2022

Far-right Jewish settlers have launched an unprecedented campaign to establish dozens of new outposts across the West Bank with tacit government support, bringing a new wave of violence against Palestinian along with it.

Hundreds of Jewish settlers set out across the occupied West Bank on Wednesday to take part in an unprecedented effort to erect a number of illegal settlement outposts in the territory. 

The effort was launched by the far-right Nachala settlement movement, whose mission is to increase Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Reports indicated that the settlers are seeking to build at least three outposts on Wednesday, though it’s expected the settlers might try to set up more than that. 

The group has been planning the initiative for months, mobilizing settlers across the territory, fundraising in cities across Israel, and garnering support from Israeli political figures and government officials. 

Led by Daniella Weiss, a leader of the religious-Zionist and settler movements and an advocate of an “Arab-free” Jewish state, the plans started as a goal of establishing “10 Evyatars” – named after the Evyatar outpost in Beita, what the group considers to be one of its most successful settlement projects in years.

The main strategy of the operation is for the settlers to descend en masse to different sites they have been allocated, establish a presence there through tents and mobile caravans, and declare it as a new settlement. 

The operation is expected to continue into the coming weeks, as Nachala designates pieces of land it plans to take over to its different “core groups”, with each one seeking out to establish its own outpost. The Times of Israel reported that the movement has set up 28 such groups, consisting primarily of high school and Yeshiva students. 

The EU denounced the plans, saying it was “concerned” over the dangerous implications it could hold, as “outposts often serve to establish or further expand Jewish settlements and are a potential direct source of increased settler violence against Palestinians.”

Unlike Jewish settlements, which are pre-approved and subsidized by the Israeli government, settlement outposts are illegal under Israeli law, as they are erected without any government permissions. Both settlements and settler outposts are illegal under international law.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz released a statement earlier in the week denouncing the initiative, saying that the military and police have been ordered to stop the initiative, and prevent the outposts from being erected. 

The military said in a statement that it is “preparing for roads, checkpoints, and key points in the Judea and Samaria area to maintain security and law and order,” referring to the biblical name of the West Bank. 

Activists from settlement watchdog Peace Now told Mondoweiss that by Wednesday morning at least one outpost had already been erected by settlers, but subsequently dismantled by Israeli authorities. 

Peace Now had mobilized its activists to counter the settler’s plans across the West Bank on Wednesday, and “stop the illegal outpost thugs.”

Videos published on social media, however, showed Israeli forces suppressing activists who had come to protest against the settlers and the erection of the outposts. At least one activist from the Israeli Mothers Against Violence group was reportedly arrested. 

As of Wednesday afternoon local time, there were no reports of Jewish settlers from the Nachala movement being arrested for their activities. 

‘The government knew’

There are currently anywhere between 450,000 to 650,000 Jewish settlers living in more than 280 outposts and settlements across the occupied West Bank in contravention of international law, which prohibits governments from moving their citizens into occupied territory. 

According to Peace Now’s numbers, there are currently 150 illegal outposts that exist in the West Bank. The number of outposts actually outnumber settlements formally established by the Israeli government, which stand at 132. 

Dr. Dana Mills of Peace Now told Mondoweiss that the Nachala movement’s project carries far-reaching implications for the geopolitical situation in the occupied territory, as the settlers attempt to “set up facts on the ground.”

“The plan is to explicitly contravene international law, and the settlers have been doing this brazenly and explicitly in Israeli media, and on social media,” Mills said, adding that the group, who reportedly raised 5 million shekels ($1.4 million) for the project, held fundraisers in the middle of Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. 

“It’s not to say that everything that was happening before with settlement expansion was not horrible, but this is a direct step up in the disregard of rule of law,” she said. “They are committing a crime, and calling on others to help commit a crime by fundraising for illegal operations.”

Mills added that the planning and fundraising of the event not only took place in plain view and with the knowledge of the government, that there were several members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, including members of the current government, who were involved in the planning of the action. 

It was only after new elections were called recently, she said, that officials like Gantz and others began to openly denounce Nachala’s plans. 

“What remains to be seen if the government will actually stop these plans,” Mills said, adding that her skepticism stemmed from the fact that many outposts, like Homesh and Evyatar in the northern Nablus district, while ordered to be evacuated and or demolished by the government, are still standing, and maintain a frequent settler presence until today. 

Violence against Palestinians

Jewish settlers frequently attack Palestinians and their property in the West Bank, a phenomenon well documented by rights groups, who say that the attacks often happen under the supervision, and assistance, of the Israeli military.

Just this year the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has documented 343 settler attacks on Palestinians, including physical assaults on Palestinians, and attacks on their land and livestock. 

Mills said that the outposts are the major source of settler violence in the West Bank, and that if Wednesday’s action is successful, it will only continue to embolden the settlers, posing more risks to Palestinians and their land. 

The Nachala movement’s outpost operation has already caused deadly consequences for Palestinians. Last month, during a planning and scouting operation by Nachala activists in the Salfit district of the West Bank,  settlers stabbed and killed 27-year-old Ali Harb, a Palestinian man from the village of Iskaka, near the Ariel settlement. 

A settler stabbed Harb in the heart, reportedly in the presence of a settlement security guard and Israeli soldier, after he and other residents of Iskaka went out to push back the settlers off their land. 

The Times of Israel said that the lawyer for the main suspect in the stabbing confirmed that “the assailant had been participating in a scouting mission for Nachala.”

On Tuesday, the evening before Nachala’s operation, Jewish settlers launched a large-scale attack on the village of Burin in the Nablus district, attacking homes and setting fire to land in the village. 

“At around 5:30 pm a large group of settlers gathered from the surrounding areas on Route 60, outside the Yitzhar settlement. Fifteen minutes later, they descended on the village, and started attacking the homes that were close to the road,” Ghassan al-Najjar, a local activist from Burin told Mondoweiss.

 “They attacked homes and vehicles with strokes ones and large sticks, breaking windows and damaging people’s property,” Al-Najjar said, adding that the settlers attempted to break into the home of a Palestinian family from the village. 

“The young men from our village grouped together to go protect the family’s home, and they were attacked by Israeli soldiers, who fired tear gas at them and arrested one of the youth,” Al-Najjar said. 

The soldiers also raided the home in question, demanding that the family hand over a “boy,” Al-Najjar said the family has no son, and that the soldiers “terrorized the family for no reason”. 

The settlers also set fire to olive groves in Burin, burning approximately five dunams (approximately 1.2 acres) of land, and at least 10 olive trees. 

Al-Najjar said that Israeli soldiers were present the entire time, from the moment the settlers gathered on the road, throughout the assault on the village, and until they left. 

“The soldiers came to protect the settlers, and attack us for defending our homes,” he said. 

While Mondoweiss could not independently confirm if the settlers who attacked Burin belonged to the Nachala movement, Al-Najjar said he believed the attack on Burin, and the outpost operation on Wednesday were “all part of the larger settler plan to terrorize Palestinians and steal our land.”

‘Changing the narrative in Area C’

In the lead up to Wednesday’s events, Nachala and other settler groups have been engaging in what Dr. Mills of Peace Now is a wider campaign within the settler movement to increase Jewish settlement in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli military control, and where most settlements and outposts exist. 

Area C consists of more than 60 percent of the West Bank. The large majority of Area C is privately owned Palestinian land, but because of the military’s control of the area, Palestinians are largely prevented from using or building on the land. 

Historically the Israeli government has prevented Palestinian construction and development of Area C, used different laws and rules to confiscate privately-owned Palestinian land and convert it into “state land”, all while simultaneously promoting settlement construction in the area. 

According to the Israeli government’s own figures, Israel rejects over 98 percent of Palestinian building permit requests in Area C. At the same time, the government has rapidly expanded settlements,  with the government moving forward with plans in May for the construction of 4,000 new settler homes in the West Bank. 

Despite the clear disparity between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in Area C, and the fact that Area C is Palestinian land, the settler movement has continued to promote a narrative of combating what they have dubbed a “Palestinian takeover” of the area. 

“It’s absurd,” Mills said. “The settler lobby have taken on a campaign against what they call the ‘Palestinian take-over of Area C’, but the reality is that it is a settler takeover of Area C.”

“But they’ve taken the narrative and completely turned it around,” she said. “They’ve organized conferences and campaigned against any ‘illegal’ Palestinian building, and have taken it as a way to mobilize settler lobby,” Mills said. 

Earlier this month, settler organization Regavim denounced the Israeli government’s approval of six master plans for Palestinian villages in Area C of the West Bank. In a Twitter thread, Regavim referred to the Palestinian villages “settlements,” and called the plan a “catastrophe.”

Tagging a number of government officials, the group said, “It’s your responsibility to block this insane plan to whitewash thousands of illegal structures that will cut off Jewish settlement blocs from Jerusalem & give permanence to the criminal Palestinian takeover of Area C!”

Mills criticized the new narrative as “messianic” and promoting Jewish supremacy, adding that the settler movement was attempt to skew the facts, and legitimize their illegal activities, while falsely equating Palestinian construction to being “illegal” and “criminal”

“They have managed to take control of the narrative within Israeli society, and the twisting of the narrative has been very damaging,” Mills said. 

“Now people who don’t know what the real situation is will think that Area C is some contentious place, and that Palestinians are taking over Jewish land, rather than the opposite, which is the real truth.”

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss