Ibrahim Yaqoub, 56, still remembers the day the IDF told him that he was not allowed to access his farmlands in Amona, an illegal hilltop outpost near Ramallah.
“The army told me that my land is in a closed military zone and that I am not permitted to access it – I felt like a lost my soul, my being, everything.”
Some 20 years later, Yaqoub, who hails from Ein Yabrud, a village near Ramallah, feels a partial sense of relief, knowing that the Israeli security services evacuated the settlers who had been living on his land.
“I feel happy, but it’s an incomplete happiness because I still have not been able to reach my land,” Yaqoub, who inherited his plots of land in Amona from his father, said.
“I am still waiting to find out if I can return to my land – I will truly be happy if I can.”
Security services completed the long-delayed evacuation of Amona’s residents on Thursday.
However, it is unclear if the Palestinian landowners will eventually be given access to the hilltop.
The Defense Ministry and the IDF declined to comment.
Yaqoub said that if he is able to reenter his land, he plans to begin the process of replanting.
“If I can go back, I will plant olive trees, tomatoes, lentils and wheat,” Yaqoub said. “My land there is so fertile that I can grow anything.”
Many Palestinians living in villages grow their own fruits and vegetables and sometimes will sell a portion of them to supplement their income.
Abdulrahman Salih, the mayor of Silwad, a Palestinian town adjacent to Amona, said that the evacuation of the outpost is a “partial victory.”
“The evacuation is a step in the direction of restoring our right to our land, but it is only a partial victory because Israel wants to relocate the settlers to another place here [in the West Bank],” Salih, who played an integral role in the legal case against the Amona settlers, said. “They should go back to the other side of the wall, not take someone else’s land here.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday the formation of a committee to advance the building of a new settlement for the evacuated Amona residents.
The settlement would be the first government-authorized settlement since the establishment of Revava near Ariel in 1991, when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister.
Separately, the government also announced the advancement of 3,000 settlement housing units in the West Bank on Wednesday, less than a week after approving 2,500 other units.
Salih added that he hopes that the coming period will see an end to violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
“We have had enough of the fighting and the killing. We have had enough of this bloody series. We want peace and coexistence. We want our own freedom,” Salih remarked.
Essa Zeid, 57, who also owns land in Amona, said he is still skeptical that he will ever be able to access his land.
“The land is strategic from a security perspective because it is elevated. So I think the army may turn it into a closed military zone,” Zeid, who is from Taiba, a nearby village, said. “I’m not sure if I will ever be able to see my land.”
Zeid also said that there is no reason for him to be happy about the evacuation of his land in light of the advancement for the construction of new settlement units.
“It is impossible for me to be happy when Israel evacuates settlers from one settlement and then puts them in another settlement,” Zeid stated.
In 1996, Palestinians first filed complaints to police against the confiscation of their land.
In 2005, Peace Now and Palestinian petitioners brought and won a case before the High Court of Justice, which ordered the demolition of nine homes in Amona.
In 2014, Yesh Din and Palestinian petitioners won another case in front in the High Court, which ruled that Amona has to be evacuated completely.
The High Court also ruled that the state had to pay the Palestinian petitioners NIS 300,000 in compensation and additional NIS 48,000 if the outpost is not evacuated by 2015.