Homeless at home

The Schwartz family struggles to rebuild their lives in Yishuv Hada’at after a traumatic evacuation from Amona.

The Schwartz family now lives in Yishuv Hada’at (photo credit: COURTESY SCHWARTZ FAMILY)
The Schwartz family now lives in Yishuv Hada’at
Nachum and Yifat Schwartz sit in their newly built prefab house at the end of a dirt road in a small settlement called Yishuv Hada’at, trying to make sense of what happened to their lives. Their daughter, Avishag, a preteen who is one of their seven children, sits on their old couch holding her thin legs close to her chest.
“Amona,” she says softly, as if trying to hold herself from drowning. “Amona,” Yifat repeats bitterly, tears in her eyes. “There is no more Amona.”
Crushed, no one to console them, they hug each other.
In February, 2017, their home, which Nachum built in Amona 22 years ago on an empty hilltop overlooking Ofra, was destroyed along with 41 others, a synagogue, schools, and a winery by the government acting on orders from the Israel Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Miriam Naor. The lives of 42 families and their 200 children were plunged into chaos.
A few weeks before the evacuation and destruction, the government signed an agreement with the Amona residents promising new alternative housing, but the High Court refused to accept the deal and the IDF destroyed the settlement. The families were put up in a dormitory in nearby Ofra, promised that it would only be for a short time and that new housing would soon be provided. But forty families remain homeless and helpless.
Yishuv Hada’at is a tiny settlement located several kilometers east of the large settlement of Shilo, named for the nearby archeological site of the 3,500-year-old Biblical-era town, the first capital of the Jewish people when they entered the land under Joshua, and the place where the mishkan (Tabernacle) rested for 369 years.
Built overlooking the Shilo Valley below, which stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan Valley, Nachum and Yifat’s government-built house is smaller than what they had in Amona.
They are there by necessity, not by choice. They were the only family that was relocated because Nachum has a large herd of sheep, which need shelter and care and, therefore, the government moved him and his family to this spot, and provided a sheepfold down the hill. It’s a place to live, but it’s not “home.”
Separated from their former neighbors and friends and feeling isolated, Nachum and Yifat struggle to keep their family together. Except for their youngest infant daughter, their children long to be with their friends and school in Ofra. Amona was a vibrant community, but efforts by government ministers and community leaders to save it failed. Nine homes in Ofra were also destroyed. No one was willing to oppose the High Court ruling that it was built on “private Palestinian land” and therefore had to be destroyed.
Although Arab claims were proven to be false, the High Court refused to reconsider its decision.
Ironically, claiming to uphold the “rule of law,” the Court violated it, since according to Israeli law (similar to law in all democratic countries), a person who has built in good faith on land which is later found to belong to another is entitled to offer compensation to the landowner rather than destroy the building.
Chief Justice Naor not only refused to allow any offers of compensation, she set an arbitrary date for the eviction and refused to extend it – even when the government requested more time to prepare alternative housing. Moreover, the entire area of Amona remains vacant filled with piles of rubble that once were homes; Arabs are prohibited from the area for security reasons. The destruction has served no one.
A few weeks ago, the IDF’s Civil Administration, which rules Area C, approved initial plans for a site near Shilo where the evacuees could rebuild their community.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit “determined that there is solution for the regulation of temporary housing within a relative short period of time,” according to the Justice Ministry.
On June 20, the groundwork began on a new settlement called Amichai, the first approved by the Cabinet in two decades.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that this would be “a new settlement for the Amona residents.”
Meanwhile, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis. The evicted families are under stress, living in small cramped rooms jammed with bunk beds without privacy and an uncertain future, feeling betrayed by their own government, their lives littered with broken promises, humiliated, abandoned and neglected.
The human cost of preventing the Amona families from rebuilding their lives and homes cannot be measured.
The trauma of being thrown out of one’s home and lives disrupted will become visible only later, when the alienation and anger that is suppressed finds its way out.
The healing that can happen with new homes in a new community has yet to begin.
The families expelled from Amona try to maintain some semblance of normal routine, school and a home, searching for some meaning in the destruction of their community, in heaps of wreckage of their loss.
Like those who were thrown out of Gush Katif and northern Samaria in 2005, Migron in 2012, Beit El in 2014, and Ofra in 2017, they will eventually rebuild their homes, their lives and their communities.
But scars remain and trust in the government has been eroded.
Strengthened by their sense of community and the belief that they are not alone, the homeless families of Amona are sustained by a faith that their struggle is not in vain.
“This is our country,” Nachum says. “We aren’t going anywhere.”
For more information, please contact: usaforamona@gmail.com