Nablus, Occupied West Bank – Israeli forces injured at least 40 Palestinian protesters after thousands of Israeli Jewish settlers marched to the evacuated settlement outpost of Homesh, near Nablus in the occupied West Bank.
Parts of the Nablus-Jenin highway were closed to Palestinian traffic as a result of the march. Settlers departed on Tuesday morning from the settlement of Shavei Shomron, northwest of Nablus, on buses.
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They passed several Palestinian villages, including Burqa, before marching from a location near Homesh, which was built upon land that is part of Burqa.
Israeli forces fired rubber-coated bullets and tear gas at Palestinians protesting against the event at Burqa, leading to the injuries, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. All entrances to Burqa were also shut by the army.
The Israeli army had said before the event that it would provide protection to the settlers, having initially warned settlers not to proceed for security reasons.
“[Organisers are] knowingly endangering a large group of people who are not familiar with the many security threats involved,” Major Roy Zweig, Israel’s Samaria regional brigade commander, wrote in a letter to the event organisers.
According to Israeli media, some 70 buses carrying 1,000 families registered for the event. Several Knesset members were also in attendance.
Camping complexes will reportedly be set up in Homesh, and another rally will be held in the afternoon in support of the outpost’s existing religious school, which right-wing Israeli politicians believe the army is planning to demolish.
Palestinians in Burqa said the march was a dangerous provocation, and was part of an effort to expand and strengthen settlement building in the West Bank.
“The right-wing settlers and [Israeli Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett’s government aim to strengthen settlements, which the Palestinians pay the price for, whether with their blood or with their land,” Ghassan Daghlas, an activist focused on settler violence in the northern West Bank, told Al Jazeera. “The presence of settlements here is destructive and affects more than 35,000 Palestinians living in this area … simply to provide protection for the 30 settlers sitting on Jabal Qbeibat [Homesh].”
Homesh was originally built in 1978 as an Israeli military base on private Palestinian land, before it was handed over to settlers in 1980. It was then evacuated in 2005 as part of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan”.
While all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, the settlement of Homesh is also considered illegal under Israeli law as the Supreme Court ruled that the land belonged to private owners from Burqa.
Despite the evacuation of the outpost, the Israeli army maintains a military base in the location, and settlers are allowed to access it, while Palestinian landowners are forbidden from doing so.
In 2007, settlers established a religious school, or yeshiva, at the outpost. The school continues to operate, and settlers are allowed to camp at the outpost but not have permanent homes.
Over the years, political parties have held rallies and gatherings at the outpost with legislators, high-ranking officials and settler movement figures attending.
In December 2021, an Israeli settler was killed by two Palestinian attackers who opened fire on his car.
Two weeks after the killing, some 10,000 Israeli settlers rallied to the outpost protected by the army, during which settlers attacked Burqa. Confrontations broke out with Palestinians, and Israeli forces used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas in which dozens of Palestinians were wounded.
Since then, Burqa and surrounding villages have seen a sharp increase in Israeli settler attacks, including beatings, attacks on homes, and stone-throwing.
Israeli settlements are fortified Jewish-only housing complexes built on Palestinian land in violation of international law. Between 600,000 and 750,000 Israeli settlers live in at least 250 illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Zena Tahhan contributed to this report from occupied East Jerusalem.