Amona outpost homes now in High Court’s hands

High Court to decide if bulk of homes will remain on hilltop outside of West Bank Ofra settlement; settlers await decision.

Amona 2006 clashes 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Amona 2006 clashes 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Palestinians and settlers await a decision by the High Court of Justice as to whether the bulk of the Amona outpost can remain on a hilltop outside of the West Bank Ofra settlement.
On behalf of the nongovernmental organization Yesh Din, attorney Michael Sfard argued before the court on Tuesday that the state had flip-flopped on its stance with regard to the outpost, which is home to 40 families.
The state had initially pledged to demolish Amona because it was built on private Palestinian property, he said.
In the four years since the petition to demolish the outpost was filed in 2008 by Yesh Din on behalf of the Palestinian landowners, he said, the state has shifted its focus from the entire outpost to individual property lots on the hilltop.
The state’s attorney, Osnat Mandel, said that the state had changed its position to match changing circumstances.
In 2008-2009, the state spoke of the entire outpost. But then its demolition was delayed because it was not a top priority for the state. Subsequently, the state looked to find a way to evacuate the homes peacefully, she said.
Then, she said, when the court accepted that those settlers with purchase claims to property in Amona could be included in the case, it shifted the issue from that of the whole outpost to the property issues that related to those Amona residents who had been added to the petition.
At issue is a High Court July ruling on the outpost, which amended an earlier ruling that the entire outpost should be demolished.
Instead, the court said in July that in light of claims by settlers to have purchased some of the property on which their homes were built, the issue of land ownership should be adjudicated by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
In a vaguely worded ruling, the High Court said that structures on uncontested lots should be removed, and those structures on contested lots against which there were purchase claims by settlers could remain – pending the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruling.
In a letter at the end of the month, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said that the state’s understanding of this ruling was that only one home and a portion of the access road to the outpost should be removed.
Yesh Din argued that the ruling meant that 30 of the homes should be taken down, and it filed a petition of contempt against Weinstein in which it argued that he had circumvented the will of the court.
On Tuesday at the High Court hearing, Mandel explained that she believed the ruling applied only to those Amona residents whose names were attached to the petition. The state did not consider that it now needed to tear down homes in the outpost outside the confines of the petition, she said.
Amona is located in the Binyamin region of the West Bank, on the outskirts of the Ofra settlement.