Palestinians petition to dismantle Amona

In 1999, then-PM Barak allowed it to remain as part of an outpost agreement he made with the settlers.

amona aerial view 248.88 (photo credit: Peace Now)
amona aerial view 248.88
(photo credit: Peace Now)
The issue of Amona returned to the High Court of Justice on Tuesday, when 10 Palestinian farmers who own land on the site of the illegal outpost filed a petition, demanding that the government evict the 40 families living on the outskirts of Ofra. "This petition involves an illegal site which was established without permission and in gross violation of the law," wrote the petitioners' attorney, Michael Sfard. "The site includes a large number of mobile structures, a number of wooden structures, sheds, agricultural storehouses and one stone building. The trespassers on the petitioners' land declared that it was a settlement named Amona without a permit and in violation of the law." Sfard also accused the legal authorities of doing nothing to prevent the illegal takeover. "The earthwork to level the ground, the laying of the infrastructure, the fencing of the outpost and its environs, the placement of the structures and the large-scale construction were all carried out with the knowledge and under the closed eyes, for all intents and purposes, of the law enforcement authorities in the West Bank," he wrote. In February 2006, the army and police demolished nine permanent apartment buildings that were built in Amona without permission, in response to a petition filed by Peace Now. Sfard represented the petitioner in that case as well. That event is best remembered for the violent clashes during which some 200 soldiers, police and activists were injured. The current petition is separate from the legal proceedings that brought about the destruction of those homes. Although the state has not yet replied to the new petition, it acknowledged in the previous one that the entire outpost, and not just the permanent buildings, was illegal and that it had been built on private Palestinian land. The 2005 state-commissioned report by private attorney Talia Sasson also declared that Amona was constructed on private Palestinian land. In its response to that petition, the state's representative wrote, that Amona was established in August 1995 without a permit. "The lands upon which it was established are registered and privately owned," the state continued. "It should be pointed out that members of the Binyamin Regional Council claim that some of the plots were purchased by settlement representatives or agents. However, this claim has not been proven and no process of registering the land [in the names of the alleged purchasers] has begun in lieu of this claim." The state added that no detailed outline plan had been prepared for the land and therefore it was zoned for agricultural use. One of the petitioners is Maryam Hamad, a resident of the village of Silwad, north of the settlement of Ofra. According to the petition, she is one of the heirs of Hasan El-Hamad, the registered owner of plot number 18 in bloc 21 of land situated within the village. The settlers have placed 28 mobile homes and 31 "gigantic" water containers on Hamad's land. She and her family were able to access and work their land until the year 2000, wrote Sfard. However, as the outpost became more established, she was no longer able to do so. Sfard wrote that the petitioners had decided to go to court after repeatedly asking the authorities to take action against the alleged trespassers without results. In making their claim, they are working with the Israeli left-wing group Yesh Din. "For years, the residents of Silwad, which is close to Amona, saw how the settlers were seizing the lands they owned and how the IDF Central Command, the civil administration and the Judea and Samaria District Police were doing nothing to prevent this brutal conduct," Sfard wrote. "Despite repeated appeals to the various bodies, and despite their announcements and declarations, which proved to be empty, that the buildings were illegal and earmarked for demolition, nothing was done. The petitioners had no choice, therefore, but to turn to the court and ask it to order the authorities to do what they are obliged to do by law." In Amona, no one had heard of the petition. But Palestinian claims to the land are nothing new. Amona resident Yedit Lowinger said that she understood that the land had been purchased secretly, to protect the safety of the Palestinian sellers. The outpost itself, she said, is located within the municipal boundaries of Ofra, which was established in 1975. Palestinians have not been here since then, she said. Amona residents often say they are living in a neighborhood of Ofra, not in a separate settlement. But the outpost is located well beyond the built-up area of Ofra. To get there one must drive past the last homes, down a hill and up another one. In fact, many Amona residents proudly claim that theirs is the first outpost. In 1999, then-prime minister Ehud Barak allowed it to remain as part of an outpost agreement he made at the time with the settlers. Lowinger recalled a story, well known in Amona, about a visit outpost residents made to Ariel Sharon before he became prime minister, around the time when he was urging settlers to go live on the West Bank hilltops. "He thumped on the table and said, 'Why are you not building there?'" she said. Pinchas Wallerstein, the director-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said that Barak had a chance to demolish Amona in 1999 and he chose not to. That choice, he said, was itself a statement about the status of Amona. Those who say that the outpost is illegal have a political agenda against the settlement enterprise in the West Bank, he said, and their claims have to be seen in that light.