Thousands at Homesh; IDF on Stand-by

3,000 activists have arrived at the destroyed community of Homesh. IDF forces are not stopping them - but a clash may happen tomorrow.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 1:33 PM

3,000 young activists, and some of their families, have arrived at the site of the destroyed Samaria community of Homesh- unfurling an Israeli flag at the site for the first time in a year and a half. Hundreds more are on the way, having reached Shavei Shomron by bus and marching the remaining seven kilometers by foot. The IDF is guarding the marchers, but blocking vehicles from entering the area.

In an abrupt about-face, the security forces - army and police - decided last night (Sunday) that instead of mass arrests, threats to sue for law-enforcement costs, and possible violence, they would enable thousands of "orange" activists to reach Homesh today. They are considering allowing protestors to spend the night there as well.

Map of Homesh and Environs

IDF sources were later quoted as saying they would "dry them out," planning to prevent large supplies from reaching the protestors.  They would thus wait for the activists to "break down" because of the difficult conditions and leave.

Boaz HaEtzni, one of the organizers, told Arutz-7's Ruti Avraham in response, "I love this chain of events.  First they said they wouldn't let us go up, and now they say they will wait us out.  The ball is in our court, and we see it as a challenge, under good conditions. The weather is good and the army is not stopping us. If there are a million people in Israel who feel really strongly about this, then despite the holiday, or maybe because of it, and if everyone realizes that it is in his hands, Homesh will be rebuilt."

Activist leaders have said over the past few days that even if they are not permitted to remain this time, they will try again in the future.

Uncounted numbers of people began making their way to the area yesterday and this morning, and dozens of buses were scheduled to set off around noon from various locations around the country. Many of them have sleeping bags, hoping to remain there for as long as possible. As of mid-morning, many people were gathered in nearby Shavei Shomron, preparing to ascend together with others who are expected to arrive throughout the day, The ultimate goal: to rebuild the destroyed Jewish town.

Homesh was the site of a Jewish community in the Shomron from 1981 until it was destroyed - along with 24 others in Gush Katif and the Shomron - by Ariel Sharon in the Disengagement.  It is now nothing more than several piles of ruins where homes used to stand. Unlike Gush Katif, from which the army retreated and handed over to Arab control, Homesh and nearby Sa-Nur are still under full Israeli control - and yet Jews have not been permitted there since the destruction of 2005.

Refusing to accept a situation in which Israeli-controlled land is arbitrarily forbidden to Jews, concerned citizens of the "orange" (anti-Disengagement) camp publicly and widely announced a plan to resettle Homesh a month ago - almost daring the army to try and stop them. The army forces responded last week with an unusual threat to clamp down hard on those trying to reach the area, and even threatened to sue the many expected arrestees for the financial costs incurred in the operation.

As it became clear that the 2,000 soldiers amassed for the operation would not suffice, and with the fear that the "orange" activists might endanger themselves by attempting to evade soldiers by walking through or near Arab villages, and with the additional fear of Amona-type violent clashes between soldiers and citizens - the army made an about-face. In a meeting last night with leaders of the "Return to Homesh" operation, it was decided that the soldiers would not try to stop the activists, but would rather protect the two routes by which they are expected to arrive.

However, the army said that no one would be permitted to remain later than tonight or possibly tomorrow - and expects the protestors to cooperate.  Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking at joint press conference today with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said, "I understand that there was an agreement reached between the defense officials and the organizers, according to which they will visit Homesh and then leave.  I expect that the organizers will stand by their word and that we will not not have to use other means to cause them to leave. We have no intention of repopulating unauthorized outposts."