On May 3, 2021, following the killing of Yehuda Gueta by Palestinian gunfire, a group of settlers established a new settlement (an illegal outpost) under the name of Evyatar (commemorating Evyatar Borovsky who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian at the Zaatra Junction in 2013).
The outpost is located 1.6 km east of Zaatra Junction (AKA Tapuah Junction) south of Nablus, in an area called Jabal Sabih, in the lands of the villages of Yatma and Beita. Following the establishment of the outpost, Palestinians from the village of Beita started daily protests against the new settlement, in which 4 Palestinians have been killed by the IDF.
Peace Now: “A small group of people is creating facts on the ground that effect dramatically Israel’s security and its foreign policy without any authority. The new government must not accept that. This outpost must be evicted not only because it is deepening the occupation of the Palestinians in the West Bank but because it is bad for the security of Israel and bad for the possibility of future peace for Israel”.
The legal status of the outpost
According to international law, all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are of course illegal, however, the Evyatar outpost is also illegal according to the Israeli regulations and Israeli laws in the West Bank. It was established without government approval, without an approved plan, and on land for which the settlers have no right.
The phenomenon of the outposts is not new. In recent years we have seen the establishment of approx. 40 new outposts, mainly agriculture farms. However, this new outpost is unique, first of all because of its timing, taking advantage of the recent round of violence and the military operation in Gaza, as well as the political situation in the twilight zone between two governments, making it the first big political challenge of the new government (see below). In addition, the outpost is unique because of its size and its growth pace.
Law Enforcement Measures
All of the structures in the outpost are considered illegal, and the Civil Administration issued demolition orders to them (however because the outpost is being built so fast, some of the newer structures have yet to receive demolition orders).
On June 6, 2021, the Commander of the Central Command issued a Delimitation Order, ordering the eviction of the entire outpost within one week. The settlers appealed against the order to the Legal Advisor of the West Bank on June 17, and on Sunday June 20, their appeal was rejected. The Legal Advisor gave the settlers additional 7 days for the enforcement of the order, until Sunday June 27, and the settlers are likely to file a petition to the Supreme Court against the order.
The Supreme Court will need to decide whether to freeze the eviction until a decision in the petition is given (it is likely to issue such an injunction). This petition is likely to buy the settlers several days or weeks.
In addition, on June 20, the Shomron Municipality had filed a construction plan to the Higher Council of Planning at the Civil Administration, in an effort to legalize the outpost. The settlers are trying to claim that the very existence of the plan should prevent the eviction and that legally they should be granted time to approve the plan. However in the rejection of their appeal regarding the delimitation order, the Legal Advisor of the West Bank clearly states that there is no such legal obligation and that the plan has no chances to be advanced, because the settlers, including the Municipality, has no right to the land.
The Status of Land
One of the claims of the settlers is that there is a possibility to legalize the outpost because the land should be considered as “state land”. The status of the land according to our interpretation of the law, is private land, or as the Israeli authorities put it: “land that wasn’t declared as state land” (the settlers and the Israeli authorities refrain from admitting that land that was never declared as “State Land” is in fact private Palestinian land).
According to the Israeli (draconian) interpretation of the Ottoman Land Law, all of the non-registered lands (which are 2/3 of the West Bank) are “state land” in potential, unless they are proven to be intensively cultivated by private people.
An aerial photo from 1980 shows clearly that at least some of the land of the outpost was cultivated. However, even if the land was truly “state land” (and it is not), still the settlers have no right to it, unless they get an allocation agreement with the authorities who are in charge of those “state lands”. In another words, they are either trespassing into private Palestinian land, or into public lands.
The political implications of the new outpost
The body behind the establishment of the outpost is the settler organization of Nahala, with the close assistance of the Shomron municipality and its mayor, Yossi Dagan (a central member of the Likud party).
The Nahala organization and the main activists of the new outposts are not the mainstream old-guard settlers (like the Amanah organization who is behind many other settlements and outposts and gets much more support from the authorities), however they are not a small fringe. This outpost is an example of a rift that is being created within the Israeli right wing. The more extreme right, which is willing to challenge the system more strongly, and the old-guard settlers who continue the mentality of working “with” the government as much as possible. On the partisan level we see this rift in the creation of two different parties: Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennet, and the Jewish Zionism, headed by Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir.
The challenge of the new outpost puts the new shaky government, which is a coalition of parties which don’t agree about many things, to face its first big political test. The extreme right is signaling that it is planning to continue to challenge the new government, like it had done in the flags march in East Jerusalem, and in yesterday’s settlers’ marches throughout the West Bank.