Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Inside the illegal Zionist outpost on a collision course with the Israeli government


By Matt Matthews - October 24, 2016
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Section: [Main News] [In Pictures] [Features]
Tags: [settlements] [Settlers] [Israeli government] [Israeli Supreme Court] [West Bank]

Sacred tzitzit strings tangling with the squat holsters of their guns, the illegal settlers of Amona outpost mingle freely between their prefabricated trailers. The Israeli High Court has ruled that these homes will be destroyed by the end of December, and so this year’s sukkot festival is half family reunion and half Zionist rally.

On Friday 20 October, 6000 sympathisers from across the West Bank flocked to the outpost, snaking up the vertiginous hillside with water-coolers and picnic baskets. Israeli cabinet ministers and religious leaders exhorted the crowd, with Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel roaring: “there will only be one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, and that is the State of Israel.”

 


6000 sympathisers from across the West Bank flocked to the outpost of Amono to show their support

Though ultra-Zionists like Ariel view Palestine as Israeli land waiting to be fully conquered, all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law. And as the High Court demolition order made clear, Amona is illegal even by Israel’s own lax standards.

 

This is not how the settlers see it. “Look around you,” says one of their number, Avishai. He points over a sea of demonstrators and holiday-makers to the thorn-choked countryside beyond. “There’s no Arabs. If we left, there would be no-one here. We’ve been here 2000 years, and we’ll be here forever.”

Bar the outpost’s parent settlement Ofra in the vale below, the surrounding hills are indeed bare. But an Israeli police investigation in 2014 found the outpost was entirely constructed on Palestinian-owned soil, and that the settlers’ claims to have purchased the land were based on forged documents. Driven from cultivated land in and around Amona in the 1990s, Palestinian farmers are in fact kept from returning by the guns of the settlers and the fences patrolled by Israeli soldiers.

Children’s glitter-splattered drawings adorn the sukkah booth beside Etzik’s home. Most show heroes from the Torah: David, Sampson, Moses. One, scribbled over in maroon crayon, depicts a map of the Holy Land. The West Bank, with its three million Palestinian citizens, is nowhere to be seen: in its place are the Israeli districts of Judea and Samaria.

 

Settlers families spend a day in Amona outpost to support their inhabitants.

 

 

Etzik works in construction, overseeing projects in both the West Bank and what he terms “small Israel”, within the Green Line borders of the state. Like many of the settlers in Amona, he claims he has no issue with his Palestinian colleagues on a personal level. “The tension is made by the media. We work together, we shop in the same stores, we’re not going to kill each other,” he says.

Perhaps so, but the impact of the settlements on the indigenous Palestinians they displace goes beyond regular acts of violence. By obstructing freedom of movement and expropriating land and natural resources, their presence in the West Bank’s Area C has slashed a third off the region’s GDP and left many Palestinians struggling to provide their children with clean drinking water.

And it is not just lucrative business opportunities and tax cuts which bind the settlers to their prefabricated caravans. While Etzik says the main attraction of Amona is living in open countryside where “you don’t have to put your head up to see the sky”, many of his neighbours view their presence in the West Bank as an act of spiritual warfare on behalf of the Jewish people.

 


Udi and Rachel came with their kids in front of a Sukkah in the Outpost of Amona.

Udi believes the settlements are “the great shield of Israel”, protecting his nation and by extension the Western world from Islamic terror attacks. “This is our land, our father’s land, here,” he says.

His wife Rachel concurs. “Palestinians are very nice, they’re very friendly, but they can take a knife in one minute and kill you,” she says. “I don’t have a problem with them living over there – why does it disturb them that I live here? Did a Palestinian ever live here in history? What’s the problem?”

It is startling to hear her voice rise: in defiance of the hard evidence uncovered by the Israeli courts, she genuinely believes this land was empty before her forebears occupied it.

All the settlers feel victimised by the Israeli state. Liability is generally placed on the perceived weakness of the Netanyahu government, capitulating to external condemnation or internal dissent. Speaking in one of the very first homes to have been built in the outpost, Eitan points the finger at “radical Israeli organisations looking for a reason to protest.”  

To Etzik, meanwhile, “the government gave in to pressure from the USA. There are 40 families here, and Obama is talking about us. In Syria, there are 600,000 dead, and he says nothing. This is the only place he can leave a legacy.”

The Obama administration did issue an unusually harsh critique of the Israeli government’s plans to relocate the Amona settlers to occupied land elsewhere in the West Bank. But these “serious concerns” over “plans… that would seriously undermine the prospects for a two-state solution” appear rather toothless in the light of the USA’s continued massive financial support of the Israeli military-industrial complex.

“At the end of the Obama term, our entire settlement enterprise is at risk,” Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly told the Amona settlers last week. Previously, the Israeli state has tacitly supported these doubly illegal settlers by hooking them up to the electrical grid and providing military cover for their initial seizure of the hilltop.

 

If the demolitions do go ahead, as most commentators and Amona residents now believe they will, it will only be under extreme sufferance. The 2006 destruction of just 9 Amona properties was a bloody affair, as thousands of ultra-nationalist demonstrators fought bitterly with mounted police. Though the homes were eventually torn down, 300 Israeli protesters were injured in the debacle, including members of the Knesset.

 

 

Eitan outside one of the very first dwellings in Amona, built under the protection of the Israeli Forces.

In general, the settlers in Amona do not appear as belligerent as their counterparts deeper in the West Bank. They are zealously committed to the Zionist project – “it’s very important for us to take everywhere in this holy place that belonged to our fathers,” says Eitan – but not to the point of napalm bombings or actual murder.

Most claim they will respect the rule of law and leave by the end of the year: “I am a soldier, and I believe what the country decides must be done,” Eitan says.  But with 20,000 partisan Zionists set to move into the outpost to obstruct its demolition, the Israeli government could well have a repeat of the 2006 bloodbath on its hands.

For now, all of the settlers are charmingly polite. They welcome strangers into homes bedecked with woven date palm, willow and myrtle branches, and ply them with couscous and glasses of wine. But the more charming their picture-book lives appear, the more galling it is to be reminded that these lives are built on land and agricultural profits stolen from Palestinian families. The underlying extremism of the settler ideology is all the more jarring when it breaks through Amona’s sunny exterior.

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