King of the Hill: Where is Homesh, and Why Does It Have Everyone So Bothered?

The battle for the hilltops of Samaria is the frontline in the battle for the Land of Israel.

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: Jewish Settlers
The ruins of Homesh in northern Samaria. Jews are now returning to this strategic hilltop. Photo by TPS
The ruins of Homesh in northern Samaria. Jews are now returning to this strategic hilltop. Photo by TPS

A few Jews sitting atop a solitary, otherwise barren hilltop. It’s a statement, and one the world apparently can’t tolerate. For the Palestinians, it’s a declaration of war.

Earlier this year, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repealed portions of the 2005 Disengagement Law pertaining to the evacuation of Jewish settlements in northern Samaria.

The Jewish communities of the Gaza Strip will remain Jew-free, but it is now not illegal for Israeli Jews to return to the northern Samaria hilltops where once stood four Jewish settlements. The focal point is the former community of Homesh.

The Biden administration hooted and hollered that Israel was violating commitments it made not only to the Palestinians, but to the United States. But Israeli officials noted that the letters exchanged at the time between former US President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also contained American commitments to Israel, such as supporting unrestricted Jewish construction in parts of Judea and Samaria, and guaranteeing security in southern Israel.

The Obama administration, in which Joe Biden was vice president, explicitly excused itself from honoring those commitments, so some wondered why Israel should still see itself as obligated.

The West was really upset when a handful of Jews last week returned to Homesh, with approval from Israel’s defense establishment, and rebuilt a local yeshiva.

The European Union condemned “the establishment of permanent structures for Israeli settlers in the Homesh outpost in the occupied West Bank” and demanded that Israel “reverse this action.”

The White House stressed that it was “deeply troubled” by the presence of religious Jewish seminary students atop Homesh.

For the Palestinians, it was all the justification they needed to ramp up terrorist attacks against Jews in the area. After all, if the West was so upset by the move, surely it wouldn’t mind if they shoot at a few of those troublesome Israelis.

With tacit government approval, religious Jews reestablish a yeshiva in Homesh. Photo by TPS

A look at Homesh

Before we continue, let’s take a look at the tiny settlement at the center of this international storm.

Homesh was established on a strategic hilltop in 1978 as an outpost for the Nahal Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. Soon after, civilian settlers began to move to the hilltop with the tacit approval of the Israeli government.

The previous short-lived Israeli government acknowledged last year that Homesh had been built on privately-owned Palestinian land, though that land had long been barren and successive Israeli governments had not opposed the presence of the Jewish settlers.

The community was named after five (hamesh) Jewish villages that had existed nearby during the first and second centuries AD.

Homesh is situated along Highway 60 directly in the heart of northern Samaria, and is surrounded by many Arab villages.

An aerial view of Homesh in the heart of northern Samaria. Photo by TPS

Why it matters

The Jewish settlers reclaiming Homesh are doing so because it is part of Israel’s biblical inheritance.

But there’s also a strategic reason. The Jewish settlers know that if Homesh, Ariel and the Etzion Bloc fall–in other words, if Israel is unable to justify its claim to the biblical heartland–then the rest of Israel will fall soon after.

Israel’s secular leadership used to understand this, too, to a certain extent.

In Arab eyes, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Netanya and Nazareth are lost, at least for now. The frontline of the battle for the Land of Israel has shifted to the hilltops of Samaria. And that was by design. Forty years ago, Israel’s Labor-led (read “leftist”) government knew that if it pushed the frontline into the “disputed territories,” that would relieve pressure on the major population centers. But if that frontline falls, whether through violence or international pressure like that emanating from Washington, make no mistake – the Palestinians will again turn their full gaze to the coastal plains, the Mediterranean shores and the Galilee. In their mind, it’s all theirs, as evidenced by what they teach their children.


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