Thousands of people have been marching to the former Samaria community of Homesh since Tuesday morning, on Israel's Independence Day. The number of participants far exceeds the expectations of the march organizers and of the security forces assigned to the event.
At the head of the group of marchers was Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Yisrael Aumann.
IDF soldiers at checkpoints along the way are making no attempt, as of Tuesday evening, to stop the marchers, saying they are there to secure the area, protect the marchers from Arabs from local villages, and to prevent activists from using side trails off the main road. Arutz-7 correspondent Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu described the march as quiet and calm, with the atmosphere between the soldiers and marchers as "very relaxed." Another source, who spoke as he was climbing up the hill close to Homesh, also reported the event as "calm, definitely."
At the head of the main organized group of marchers, which set off at 11:00 am from a nearby town, was Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Yisrael Aumann. The world-renowned professor of game theory stated in recent days that he sees a return to Homesh as "signaling the imperative change of direction the state needs. The march to Homesh expresses very well the aspiration to be a free people in our land." Prof. Aumann addressed the gathered activists, as did the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Rabbi Dov Lior.
According to Tzafrir Ronen, among the march organizers, the turnout was far beyond what the Homesh First umbrella group had planned on. Eyewitnesses said the total number of marchers on the road numbered between seven and ten thousand.
Dozens of hired buses, including some organized without the help or knowledge of the march organizers, brought supporters of Homesh resettlement from all over the country. The Likud movement also formally joined in on the Homesh march during Tuesday morning. Four buses hired by the Likud party brought activists to the area.
Most of marchers are teenagers and people under the age of 30, many pushing strollers with toddlers and babies, although some are middle-aged and older. "I've seen some grandfathers climbing up the hill," said eyewitness Jonathan Stein. Several thousand people had reached the ruins of Homesh by early afternoon, Stein reported. Commenting on the determination of all of the participants to complete the hike, organizer Ronen said, "I have been to all the battles and all the demonstrations - I have never seen anything like this."
The participants are varied and represent "all types - religious, secular, Haredi, old people and young," according to Ronen. "They are all streaming towards Homesh in an unbelievable flow. The police was unable to cope and simply folded up its tent and left the area. Of four or five jeeps, there remains one, [whose occupants] have nothing to do but have a friendly chat with the marchers. Determination has proven itself. It is also clear to the police that this place is ours...."
Isolated Clashes and One Accident
Despite the generally peaceful nature of the march, isolated incidents of confrontation during the resettlement demonstration led to six arrests, according to an IDF spokesman.
A few security officers allegedly got out of their vehicle and used their weapons to strike a marcher who stepped into the road. The security forces reportedly thought the man was blocking them; the man reportedly thought the jeep was going to hit a group walking along the road.
Two activists were arrested early in the evening after punching holes in the tires of several IDF vehicles on the road between Shavei Shomron and Homesh. One Israeli was arrested earlier in the day after a group of marchers attacked IDF soldiers who tried to stop them at a checkpoint, showing them papers classifying the area as a closed military zone. Two soldiers were lightly injured in the altercation and were treated at the nearby army base.
In another incident, three Israelis were arrested after blocking the road between Shavei Shomron and Homesh by parking vehicles across, and lying down in, the street, effectively preventing IDF vehicles and medical units from passing.
One young marcher was reportedly struck by a Border Guard jeep on the way to Homesh. She has been evacuated to hospital for treatment; her condition is unknown as of this writing.
Homesh Return: An Independence Day Mitzvah
The Association of Judea, Samaria and Gaza Rabbis expressed
The turnout was far beyond what the Homesh First umbrella group had planned on.
the view that the return to Homesh is the practical application of the mitzvah (commandment) inherent in Israel's Independence Day. The rabbis called on the public to get to Homesh in any way they can.
In Homesh, the rabbis wrote, the public is "to give thanks and praise for the miracle of the return to Zion and for settlement throughout our holy land."
The town of Homesh was one of four Jewish communities in northern Samaria that were emptied of its residents under the Disengagement Plan, implemented by the Sharon administration in August 2005. Under that plan, all of the Jewish towns of Gaza were uprooted as well, with control over the area handed over to the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority.
Forced to Walk Back in the Dark
Homesh First activists said they would leave the area at the end of the day, in cooperation with the IDF Central Command coordinating officers. Hundreds of marchers made their way out of the Homesh area before dark with no unusual events reported. It was not initially clear how the remaining marchers would return from the area, however, since the army did not allow buses or other vehicles in to pick up the demonstrators. This left 5,000 civilians, including women and children, who were forced to venture into the wilderness in the dark as they were unprepared for, nor allowed to, stay overnight.
(Photos: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu - click here to view slideshow)