High Court delays evacuation of West Bank outpost Amona

Evacuation delayed until J'lem court adjudicates conflicting property claims between settlers, Palestinians.

July 12, 2013 14:17
4 minute read.
Police clash with settlers in Amona, February 1, 2006.

Amona 2006 clashes 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

The West Bank Amona outpost received a last minute reprieve Friday, when the High Court of Justice ruled that the bulk of the 40 hilltop homes could remain where they are until the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court adjudicates conflicting property claims between settlers and Palestinians.

A 40-meter section of the access road to the outpost will be torn down, but settlers are already building an alternative stretch.

The HCJ had previously ruled that the outpost must be evacuated by July 15, because it was built without permits on private Palestinian property.

Settlers claim to have since purchased some of the property on which the homes are built through a company called Al-Watan.

Amona residents had asked the court to leave the outpost intact until all the land issues are settled.

The Israeli non-governmental organization Yesh Din, that petitioned the HCJ on behalf of the Palestinian landowners in 2008, has asked the court to stick to the July 15 deadline, so the land could be returned to their clients. But the HCJ’s ruling fell in line with the state’s recommendation.

It issued a new date of July 24 for the removal the 40-meter stretch of road, and any homes without purchase claims.

According to settlers, only one home needs to come down. The court ruling itself is vague and does not clarify how many buildings must come down on July 24.

Yesh Din attorney Michael Sfard said that he had never been given enough information about the purchased lots to discern the number of homes the state plans to demolish in Amona by July 24.

Sfard said he was disappointed by Friday's HCJ verdict to delay the evacuation.

“The fight to evacuate Amona and restore possession over the land to the owners began more than a decade ago,” Sfard said.

“Part of Amona will be evacuated this month and Yesh Din will continue to give assistance to the owners until they get their land back,” Sfard said.

He told The Jerusalem Post that his clients knew nothing of any settler land purchases on the hilltop and rejected all claims that someone had bought their property.

The state, he said, has consistently recognized the rights of the Palestinian property owners.

In a written argument to the court submitted on Thursday, Sfard explained that the question of settler purchase claims were moot. Even if the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court was to authenticate the land purchases, there is not enough settler owned land on the hilltop to create a viable community, he wrote.

Built in 1995, Amona is one of the oldest outposts. It is located on a hilltop on the outskirts of the Ofra settlement in the Binyamin region.

It is best known for violent clashes between security forces and right-wing activists that occurred there in 2006, when the IDF and Border Police demolished nine permanent homes that had just been built on land classified by the state as belonging to private Palestinians.

At present some 40 families live in Amona with 170 children. The outpost also has an elementary school that goes through fourth grade and three kindergartens. It has a synagogue, a community center, a playground, a basketball court and a number of businesses including a boutique winery.

According to the 2005 government-sponsored report on West Bank outposts by private attorney Talia Sasson, the outpost was built on private Palestinian property without the necessary permits.

Still, she said, the Housing and Construction Ministry spent NIS 2.16 million on infrastructure for Amona.

In a written argument the Amona residents submitted to the court on Tuesday, they provided a document, which showed that the Housing and Construction Ministry spent NIS 300,000 on the same road the Civil Administration now plans to destroy.

Amona residents have long claimed they purchased much of the land on which the outpost is built; even before they bought some of the land in the last few months.

Still, in their written argument to the court, they noted that the land status was actually unclear at the time the outpost was created.

Amona residents provided the HCJ a document from the Binyamin Regional Planning Council, which stated that the property owner was the Custodian of Abandoned Properties. In addition, it also provided the HCJ initial plans drawn up in the 1990s for Amona, as a neighborhood of the Ofra settlement.

In its written argument, Amona residents said they were not “trespassers or law-breakers” and that there was no justification to evacuate them.

They told the court that in zoning documents the Palestinians are registered as “users” of the land and not its owners.

The claimants, therefore, do not have the right to request that the land be evacuated, because they do not have the standing of owners, Amona settlers wrote to the court.

Upon hearing of Friday’s HCJ decision to delay the evacuation, Amona spokesman Avichai Baron said he was pleased by the decision, which he felt justified their position that the land was theirs.

“We are hopeful that the court will validate the claim and the outpost will eventually be authorized,” he said.

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