Illegal Evyatar outpost resettled with tacit government approval

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EVYATAR, West Bank — The illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar has been resettled by several dozen youths and a handful of families who are living at the site and operating a makeshift yeshiva there, under the protection of the Israel Defense Forces and with the apparent approval of the government.

During a visit to the outpost on Monday, The Times of Israel saw around 30 young men studying in the yeshiva and a family with several young children and an infant living at the site.

IDF soldiers guarded the entrance to Evyatar, while a small platoon was stationed inside the outpost in a small camp complete with a generator, drinking-water tanker and other facilities.

The settlers’ activities are in full view of the military presence, which has been in place since the outpost was evacuated in 2021, indicating that the government and the Defense Ministry have given tacit approval to the settlers to repopulate the outpost.

Settlement activists, led by the Nachala Settlement Movement, which promotes the establishment of illegal outposts and first founded Evyatar a decade ago, took up residence in the outpost last Tuesday night as a response to a terror shooting in the Eli settlement in which four Israelis were killed.

The Prime Minister’s Office, the Defense Ministry, and the offices of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich all declined requests for comment as to whether the government has approved the resettlement of Evyatar and decided not to evacuate the illegal outpost.

A woman and her children who have moved to live in Evyatar sit close to living quarters in the outpost, June 26, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon)

Evyatar was most recently established in 2021, although previous attempts to create an outpost at the site date back to 2013. It was established without government authorization and without the requisite planning approval from the Civil Administration, a department of the Defense Ministry, making it illegal under Israeli law, and was evacuated in July 2021.

A clause in the coalition agreement between Likud and Religious Zionism, signed to establish the current government, stipulates that Evyatar will be legalized.

According to the left-wing Peace Now organization, some of the land on which Evyatar is located is either private or public Palestinian land belonging to the nearby village of Beita, although the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper has reported that a Civil Administration survey found that some 60 dunams at the site can be considered state land on which the outpost could, in theory, be legally approved.

The young men studying in the yeshiva, both married and single, have all come from a yeshiva in the nearby Tapuach settlement, which has essentially transplanted itself to Evyatar for the summer. Some have taken up residence in Evyatar, sleeping in the prefabricated homes used by settler activists to quickly establish buildings in illegal outposts.

Others travel every day to and from Tapuach, while food and other basic provisions are brought in from that settlement.

Moshe Akiva Shenhav, 22, is one of the married students studying in Evyatar. Although he is currently not living in the outpost and travels from Tapuach every day, he says he hopes to soon move into Evyatar to live.

Moshe Akiva Shenhav, a yeshiva student studying at the makeshift Evyatar yeshiva, stands in the newly populated outpost, June 26, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon)

Shenhav said that although there has been no formal declaration to approve the resettlement of Evyatar, the government has in principle agreed to do so.

“It hasn’t been signed but it’s been officially agreed,” he said.

Asked why he came to study in Evyatar, Shenhav said, “Because of love for the Land of Israel,” and what he said was “Arab thievery of the land,” a frequent claim by settlement activists who allege that Palestinians, encouraged by the Palestinian Authority, build illegally in Area C of the West Bank, the 60 percent of the territory under full Israeli civilian and military control, in order to claim more territory.

“We would be happy for this to be done in a formal, state-approved manner. We’re not there yet but we’re on our way there,” he said.

“It’s mostly about [the biblical commandment] of settling the land,” Shenhav added regarding his motivation for participating in the resettlement of the outpost.

Asked why the terror attack in Eli had motivated him and others to resettle Evyatar, Shenhav said, “They [the Palestinians] are trying to harm the Land of Israel, so we are expanding settlement of the land. It’s a natural response to terror.”

Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces during a protest against the Evyatar outpost close to the nearby village of Beita, July 30, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Yehudah Strauss, 19, also studies in the Tapuach yeshiva, but like Shenhav has now moved to study in Evyatar.

Strauss, who grew up in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, said he had decided to study in Tapuach, and now Evyatar, because there are not enough people going to live in the Samaria district in the northern West Bank in which Evyatar is located, in order to settle the land and as part of the “battle” for it.

“I’m fighting for my home. It’s our land, it belongs to the Jewish people,” said Strauss, who added that he intends to eventually move permanently to Samaria.

“We are fighting for this place every day through settling it, every meter of land here is contested with the Arabs,” he continued.

“If Jews didn’t settle here then Tapuch would be a village full of Arabs, and the same goes for Evyatar and Eli. There would be lots of Jenins here,” he continued, referring to the Palestinian city, which has become a hotbed for terrorist activity.

Construction and Housing Minister Yitzchak Goldknopf visits the Evyatar outpost and promises that the site will one day be home to ‘ten thousand residents,’ June 22, 2023. (Flash90)

Peace Now, which opposes settlement expansion, denounced the apparent agreement of the government to approve the resettlement of Evyatar.

“The decision to authorize the Evyatar outpost is outrageous by every measure. Despite the fact that the settlers have no claim to the site at all and that it is on the land of the Beita village, the State of Israel is being dragged into authorizing land theft and appeasing a bunch of lawbreakers,” said Yoni Mizrahi, Peace Now’s coordinator for its Settlement Watch program.

“Evyatar is another outpost that has reached new heights in the capitulation of the government to the settlers. As always, we will all pay the price. Evyatar is a finger in the eyes of the Palestinians, for those who seek peace, and to Israel’s friends around the world who expect it [to adhere] to the rule of law and to come to an arrangement with our neighbors who, even if we steal their land, are not going anywhere and with whom we will need to come to a peace agreement.”

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