HOMESH, West Bank (Aug. 22)
If there was one name more cursed than that of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when it came time to evacuate the West Bank settlement of Homesh, it’s that of Israel’s riot police. “What Hitler Didn’t Do, the Yasam Does!” blared a slogan scrawled on one of a dozen barricaded villas at the northern West Bank settlement, using the acronym of the crack police unit that dislodged Jewish youths resisting evacuation from Gaza Strip settlements last week.
Another scrawl warned, “Yasam, Our Revenge Will Come!”
Homesh and nearby Sa-Nur were last on the roster of settlements to be evacuated under the Israeli government’s plan to “disengage” from the Palestinians after nearly five years of violence during the intifada. Hard-liners holing up for a last stand on Monday were placing a premium on skills learned in Gaza.
“We’ll make it as difficult as possible for those Rottweilers to kick us out this time,” said a 17-year-old settler who, having evaded arrest at the main Gaza settlement bloc of Gush Katif, had slipped into Homesh. “There won’t be tearful scenes of reconciliation with the security forces, especially not the Yasam. We learned our lesson.”
Founded in 1980 as a predominantly secular settlement, Homesh had 50 families at its height. Only eight remain. In recent days, Homesh has been flooded by hundreds of hardliners who evaded an army blockade and slipped in. The holdouts, most of them religious, have holed up in abandoned homes and a series of villas that were built but never inhabited.
So secular was Homesh that it never had a proper synagogue. Residents converted the community center to an ad hoc house of worship on the High Holidays.
One of the first thing the infiltrators did was turn the community center into a yeshiva and, by stretching awnings across the road, made the entire complex an outdoor synagogue of sorts. On the yeshiva was a handwritten timeline that included Israeli withdrawals from Sinai and Gaza on a list of historical Jewish tragedies, “1492: Spanish Expulsion, 1942: Expulsion of Hungary’s Jews, 1982: Yamit Evacuation, 2005: Homesh?”
Tamar Mazal spent Monday packing ahead of Wednesday’s eviction deadline. She told JTA that her family, along with another 30 from Homesh, were relocating en masse to Yad Hanna, a moshav near Netanya.
“It’s sad to leave, but the time has come,” she said. “We came to Homesh for the quality of life. There was also an ideological motivation. We’re mostly right-wingers but secular, not like these characters who have arrived here in recent days.”
She called the religious holdouts a “catastrophe.”
“I guess we have a commonality of purpose — protesting against the disengagement plan — but that’s where it ends. They have been driving us crazy, singing and shouting all night at the synagogue.”
Benny Shalom, one of Homesh’s veteran residents, spent Monday packing with the help of a half-dozen infiltrator youths.
“I respect their protest. I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to the youths, making sure that they understand that if they resort to violence, it will only hurt our cause,” he said.
“I may be leaving of my own will, but I am doing so under protest. I raised three generations in this community,” he continued. “I lost a relative to a terrorist attack on the road to Homesh. I don’t care how much compensation they’re paying me. Money cannot make up for forcing someone to leave his home.”
With most of Homesh’s families long gone and replaced by hard-liners, the sprawling hilltop settlement had been transformed into what at times appeared like a cluster of fortified clubhouses.
Radical youths, mostly segregated by gender, garlanded gutted homes with iron pikes and barbed wire. Especially popular were the bungalows hidden in a copse of conifer and carob trees. Accessible only by steep and narrow footpaths, they promised a tough challenge to security forces scheduled to flood Homesh at dawn.
“There are no tall buildings here, unlike in Kfar Darom,” said a youth named Nerya, referring to a Gaza settlement whose imposing synagogue the Yasam stormed using ladders and cranes. “So we’ve made do with what we have.”
At Kfar Darom, a dozen Yasam officers suffered burns after being doused with a caustic liquid. Television footage of policemen in pain tearing off their riot gear helped consolidate mainstream Israeli support for the evacuation of Gaza’s 21 settlements and another four from the West Bank.
Among the 300 or so holdouts at Homesh, opinion was divided on how much violence was enough for the protest to go down in history.
“I asked my rabbi, who said it was OK to puncture the tires of police vehicles, that sort of thing, as long as we don’t attack the security forces themselves,” Nerya said.
But even the hard-liners have their limits.
“When we snuck in here, I saw one kid who was confronted by a soldier and looked ready to throw a big rock at him,” he said. “There are a few crazies here, I have to admit. I hope things don’t get out of control tomorrow. We have to be remembered as doing this the right way.”