Activists Vow To Revive West Bank Settlement Homesh is one of four Jewish settlements in the West Bank that Israel evacuated at the same time it withdrew settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005. But the settlers have returned and say they are determined to bring Homesh back to life. Israeli and U.S. officials will meet Tuesday in Washington to talk about halting settlement expansion.
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Activists Vow To Revive West Bank Settlement

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Activists Vow To Revive West Bank Settlement

Activists Vow To Revive West Bank Settlement

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, meets tomorrow with George Mitchell, the Obama administration's Middle East envoy. They will be trying to resolve a rift over Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The White House has been insisting on a complete freeze in settlements. The Israeli government has resisted that demand. There are reports that Ehud Barak may be coming to tomorrow's meeting with a compromised proposal.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We're going to hear now from one West Bank settlement. Homesh was evacuated by Israel back in 2005.

As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, settlers have returned determined, as they say, to bring Homesh back to life.

(Soundbite of conversation)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sitting around a plastic table under a large tree, a small group of six settlers talk and eat. Homesh used to be home to around a hundred families, but in 2005, Israeli authorities moved the settlers out. Their homes were razed to the ground but the settlers were not gone for long.

Yair(ph), who doesn't want to give his last name because it's illegal for him to be in Homesh, says that the settlers now have a continuous presence here.

YAIR: (Through Translator) For us, it is important to be in Homesh and not to forget this place. We are here as part of a mission, because every piece of land in the land of Israel has to remain in our hands.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Settlers like Yair are fueled by religious fervor. They believe that God gave the Jews the right to populate all of the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. That includes the West Bank, which they call Judea and Samaria.

Yair says that their presence in Homesh keeps Palestinians from reclaiming this land.

YAIR: (Through Translator) The Palestinians do pass from time to time, and they think it is uninhabited. We talk to them and we tell them that we are back. We say this land is Jewish. And we behave like we are in any Jewish settlement so they know they are not allowed to come here.

(Soundbite of a baby and patting)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In another nearby Jewish settlement, Limor Sohn Har-Melekh holds her youngest child as she speaks. Here first husband was killed in an attack by Palestinian gunmen outside of Homesh, as the family was returning to its home there before the evacuation. She was seriously wounded. She's now an active member of a group called Homesh First. Their aim, she says, is to make it impossible for the Israeli authorities to keep settlers from returning to Homesh.

Ms. LIMOR SOHN HAR-MELEKH (Homesh First): (Through Translator) My organization is leading the way back. As far as we are concerned, every square foot of land is important. I miss Homesh. If we agree to surrender even small parts of the land, then they could take back all of the land.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Settler leaders say the Israeli government doesn't have the manpower or the willpower to keep them out of Homesh or anywhere else, and their presence at the evacuated settlement proves it.

Har-Melekh vows she will one day return to Homesh to live. In the meantime, she accompanies groups of settlers, sometimes thousands of them, to the site to mark Jewish holidays and other occasions.

Ms. HAR-MELEKH: (Through Translator) They can't prevent us from going up and having a continual presence there. I had the circumcision of my son on the ruins of my old house in Homesh. There were hundreds of people. It was a sign from God that if you want something enough, you can achieve it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just below the ruins of Homesh is the Palestinian village of Burqa. Children play on dusty streets next to old stone buildings. The deputy mayor here, Iyad Abu Omar, says that the evacuation of Homesh in 2005 was a media show that did little to benefit the Palestinians.

Deputy Mayor IYAD ABU OMAR: (Through Translator) Practically speaking, the settlers have not left Homesh. We are unable to go to our land there, and therefore to us, Homesh has not been evacuated.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says added to the fact that the settlers are still living there, the Israeli military has declared Homesh a closed military area, which makes it illegal for Palestinians to even visit Homesh, much less use the arable land which surrounds it.

Mr. MOHAMMED AL-SALEH(ph): (Through Translator) What the Palestinians here want to know is: why haven't the Israelis given us back the land of Homesh. What are they waiting for?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mohammed al-Saleh also lives in Burqa and is part of an anti-settlement group.

Mr. AL-SALEH: (Through Translator) I do not believe the Israelis will ever leave this place. Most settlements like Homesh are established in strategic areas.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Looking up towards Homesh, he says, we just don't expect them to give up that land.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News in the West Bank.

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