Laying the cornerstone
Laying the cornerstoneMiri Tzahi

An emotional ceremony in Shavei Shomron in northern Samaria took place on Tuesday night attended by hundreds of people, including former residents of towns in the region who were expelled by the government as part of the 2005 Disengagement plan ten years ago.

In the ceremony, the cornerstone of a new visitors' center for the northern Samaria communities was laid; the center is a joint project between the Samaria Regional Council, the Katif Center and the Samaria Tour and Study Center together with the Eshkolot group.

Immigrant Absorption and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) took part in the ceremony, where he stressed the need to return to the four Jewish communities in northern Samaria that were torn down in 2005 along with Gush Katif in Gaza.

He called to advance a bill canceling the Disengagement law which legislated the expulsions and has kept the towns uninhabited by Jews, saying, "I very much hope that members of Knesset will continue to advance the bill."

Elkin co-authored the bill, which would return the Jewish residents to Homesh and Sa-Nur in Area C, a region under full Israeli administration, and have the Arab squatters moved out from the towns.

The minister on Tuesday night praised the expelled residents of Homesh for keeping the issue alive.

"They're the ones making the statement: 'it's ours, we never left it. Maybe someone evicted the homes but we never conceded our rights to this land. As long as we haven't conceded, we will yet return there,'" said Elkin.

He also called for a return to Kever Yosef (Joseph's Tomb) in Shechem (Nablus), Samaria. According to the 1993 Oslo Accords, Joseph's Tomb was supposed to remain under full Israeli control, but it was violently seized and desecrated by Arab rioters in 2000, and the IDF has since reduced the Jewish presence to a once-monthly visit.

Yossi Dagan, acting head of the Samaria Regional Council and himself an expellee from Sa-Nur, was a key mover in pushing for the new visitors center and also addressed the ceremony on Tuesday.

"We swore we would return. We came to live in Shavei Shomron to see Homesh every morning and not to forget," said Dagan. "As long as we breathe we will struggle to return home."