Mockery of law

High Court decisions regarding Amona have been flaunted since the court issued the first demolition order in 1997, just two years after the outpost was illegally established

Amona (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Mockery of law Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman declared last week that the government would raze the West Bank settlement outpost of Amona by the December 25 deadline set by the High Court of Justice. “I have said before and I say again to the settlers of Amona: There is a judgment of the Supreme Court and we shall honor it.”
Whether the settlers of Amona will agree to being uprooted peacefully, and whether the government will actually follow through on the defense minister’s declared intention to obey the court’s ruling, is anything but certain.
Among its previous decisions, the High Court ruled that the entire outpost must be demolished by the end of 2012.
This led to a series of appeals, until in 2014 the court reiterated its decision: Amona’s homes – belonging to some 40 families – had been built illegally on private Palestinian property. Despite efforts by the settler movement and the coalition members who support it, the court also ruled that it is not possible to legalize them retroactively.
The record of court rulings and government evasions regarding Amona have focused unwanted attention on the settlement issue, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists is not an encumbrance to an eventual peace settlement. But the prime minister’s rightful analysis that it is not the settlements, but the Palestinians’ fundamental opposition to Israel’s existence that is the true issue does not jibe with the unavoidable perception that, rather than opposition to Jewish settlement in Tel Aviv, the Palestinians really do care about land theft.
High Court decisions regarding Amona have been flaunted since the court issued the first demolition order in 1997, just two years after the outpost was illegally established. It issued a second demolition order in 2003, which was only partially executed in 2006, when the government razed nine of the buildings. Following continued opposition to the outpost, in 2008 the government acknowledged that its construction was indeed illegal and again promised it would be razed. Three years later, in 2011 the state announced that the outpost would be removed by the end of 2012. As we approach the latest deadline of December 25, the world is not exactly waiting with bated breath.
Among the government’s excuses in asking for another postponement in 2013 was a novel element: diplomacy.
“In the government’s view, an evacuation on such a scale at a time like this is liable to harm Israel’s diplomatic interests...When there are weighty considerations on one hand, and no concrete petitioner on the other... the diplomatic considerations take precedence,” a spokesman told Haaretz.
By lack of a “concrete petitioner” the state referred to petition that had not yet been joined by the residents of three Arab villages whose lands had been squatted on. But the claim of “diplomatic interests” was seen as a transparent attempt to tone down international pressure against the settlement enterprise while certain peace contacts were under way. It is not unlikely, given the government’s record, that the mooted coming talks in Moscow between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu could serve as yet another “diplomatic” excuse to delay enforcing the High Court’s order.
“We swear today to fight this with all our might,” Amona spokesman Avihai Boaron told The Jerusalem Post last week.
Such an attitude prevailed in February 2006 in the so-called “Battle of Amona,” when some 10,000 policemen, border policemen and soldiers confronted some 4,000 protesters against the demolition. More than 300 people were injured.
In a last-minute attempt to placate the intended Amona evacuees, the government has proposed relocating the outpost to a nearby patch of supposedly available land. So far 13 Palestinians have claimed ownership of the land which the Defense Ministry has earmarked for the new site.
The High Court of Justice ruled in December 2014 that “the military commander of Judea and Samaria must act decisively to protect the private property of residents who are under his protection, including protection from the usurpation of and illegal construction on their lands.”
A decade ago Amona became a symbol of some settlers’ refusal to obey Israel’s highest court and risk violent confrontation, vowing to make Amona a “national trauma” that would prevent any settlements from being removed.
But Amona has become much more than an isolated West Bank outpost built on Palestinian land. For much of the world – and for too many law-abiding Israeli citizens – it symbolizes a state whose government cannot enforce its own laws.