The government is blackmailing a Yesha community to agree to evacuate two couples and remove two small "caravans" or face denial for building permits for huge cow and chicken barns.

Two families and three bachelors living in an area zoned for agriculture at the southern Hevron Hills community of Beit Yatir are being pressured to willingly abandon their homes in return for promised benefits to the larger community. The government's move comes at the same it is seeking to destroy at least 26 young Jewish towns termed "unauthorized outposts" by the  United States and the left-wing Peace Now movement. However, the area in question is totally legal and recognized even by left-wing Meretz Knesset Member Yossi Beilin, and placing it on the list of "outposts" is a diplomatic fiction. Removing two structures will ostensibly satisfy a diplomatic demand.

A home in Yatir South

(Photo: Yiska Greenbaum)

The residents of the homes, known as caravans and which are like small mobile homes without wheels, oppose the plan. They say they were not consulted and that it violates their working relationship with their mother community. “One day," one of them said, "the single men living here noticed Yatir’s mayor walking around with a contractor, talking about where the electricity would be cut and which structures would be dismantled." The mayor later informed them that the Civil Lands Administration was forcing the community to remove two trailer homes from the area.

Itai Cohen, who is the oldest son of the first Yatir residents, said he and his friends have built a mikveh (ritual bath) using Jewish labor and planted 150 trees in the area. Cohen also raises bees, but officials of Beit Yatir point out that it allowed the residents to stay there only in order to guard two huge chicken barns located several years away. Yatir's administrator Mauro Levinbuk stated that there never was any intention to let the area become a residential neighborhood because of its proximity to the chicken barns and nearby cow barns, which are being expanded to house the herd that was expelled along with residents from Moshav Atzmona in Gush Katif three summers ago.

A resident of Yatir South constructing the Mikva (ritual bath)

(Photo: Yiska Greenbaum)
Baby goats at Yatir South

(Photo: Yiska Greenbaum)

Beit Yatir residents say the government is effectively blackmailing the community with the promise of unfreezing a construction ban, authorizing the construction of the cow barns and giving building permits for the nearby community of Sansena, located north of Be'er Sheva and which straddles the 1949 Armistice Line.

"They say if we don’t get rid of the farm, the Civil Administration will come and persecute us for every unauthorized closed-in porch and things like that," one resident told IsraelNationalNews.

A home in Yatir South

(Photo: Yiska Greenbaum)

Earlier this week, 20 residents of the neighborhood of Mevo Horon overflow neighborhood of Merom Ayalon agreed to leave their homes in exchange for permission to build in the town of Mevo Horon. Several residents opposed the deal, but were beholden to their mother community.

Cohen argued that he and his friends sought a place to establish a farm six years ago and that their living and guarding the area has stopped nearby Bedouin thieves.

Levinbuk explained that the Civil Lands Administration approved only two structures and not the four that Yatir placed there. He said that the two offending caravans "will be removed" and that the two couples who would be left without homes were welcome to move to the residential neighborhoods of Beit Yatir.

Government Strategy Targets Green Line Outposts

Yatir is located about 200 yards over the pre-1967 border and is on the "Israeli side" of the Partition Wall. It abuts the Yatir Forest, planted by the Jewish National Fund. Mevo Horon, as well, is also located very close to the Green Line.

Both communities are located "inside" the wall, placing them well within the areas the Olmert government claims would be the borders of the State of Israel in a final status agreement to create a new Arab state.

Though the Yatir standoff may be nothing but a municipal disagreement within a small community, it may be the opening shot in the struggle for Migron and the other two communities expected to be threatened with destruction in the coming days. The Yesha Council recently leaked that five communities will be removed, with residents' cooperation, within the coming days.

Struggle on the Horizon

Leading Land of Israel activists Daniella Weiss and Nadia Matar joined MK Uri Ariel (National Union) and Jewish National Front head Baruch Marzel Tuesday in expressing opposition to the voluntary destruction of some Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria in exchange for building permits in others. Matar said she was "ashamed and outraged" at the Yesha Council's support of voluntary evacuations.

The Yesha Council’s decision to support evacuations proves it did not learn from the 2005 expulsion of Jews from Gaza, Matar said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if they help uproot Ofra and Beit El," she said. Land of Israel activists will send protesters to defend residents of small communities who are being pressured to leave voluntarily, she added.

Weiss warned that any government success at inducing such voluntary evacuations would be seized up by Olmert's government as support for the efficacy of its efforts to divide the communities of Judea and Samaria. She called on the public to support the construction of several new communities on Independence Day.