Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Amona stalemate


By The Palestine Monitor - January 25, 2017
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [outposts] [Settlers]

Silwad - Amona is an Israeli outpost that has been at the heart of a heated controversy over the past year, and it’s not about to cool down.

This outpost is illegal both under international law – as all settlements are – and under Israeli law, meaning Amona was never approved by the Israeli government. Yet it was built on Palestinian land, more than 20 years ago, and now houses about 300 people (41 families). There are dozens and dozens of similar structures in the West Bank.

The legal and political battles around Amona have made it into a symbol representing different forces and ideologies acting in the occupied Palestinian territories.

On the one hand, Palestinians who own the land on which Amona lies argued that the land is legally theirs, and that it was never even legally confiscated by the Israeli authorities, as it is often the case with places where settlements are located. Palestinians were helped by NGOs such as Yesh Din (“There is justice”), a prominent Israeli organization protecting human rights of Palestinians under occupation.

On the other hand, several Israeli politicians tried to make the case for Amona and support the settlers. Settlers themselves organised demonstrations against their eviction and insisted they want to remain in the West Bank, where they feel entitled to the land for religious reasons.

Controversy peaked last December, as Amona was originally slated for evacuation by December 25.

Mariam Hamad, one of the Palestinians who own the land on which Amona was built, celebrated by handing out candies and sweets to people in Silwad. “I could not go back to this land for more than 20 years, and finally, with God help, I will go back to those 6 acres of fruitful and beautiful land. I couldn't be happier,” the 83 year-old told Palestine Monitor. “Land is more expensive and dear to me than my own eyes,” she added.

But Mariam may not be able to go back after all. After the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Amona should be demolished on grounds that it was built on privately owned Palestinians land, another last-minute agreement was reached between the Israeli government and Amona’s settlers to relocate them to adjacent pieces of land. It could mean that the whole area remains under settlers’ control.

“The adjacent plots are on Palestinian land. They have yet to divide the plots, so we don't know what the exact situation is yet. They're supposed to evacuate by the 8th of February,” said Yesh Din's spokersperson Gilad Grossman. “We're waiting to see the developments. We fear the if they will be moved to the adjacent plots, then the Palestinian landowners will not be able to return to their land,” he added.

Some of that land belongs to Palestinian residents of Silwad –the nearby Palestinian village. The Mayor of Silwad, Abdel Rahman Saleh, said that after residents fought one battle for Amona settlers to be evacuated, they are ready to fight a second battle to have them evacuated from the second location – yet again, on privately-owned Palestinian land. He explained that the land is located in Basin 17 and Basin 6. Basin 17 is owned by eight Silwad residents and Basin 6 is owned by residents of Ein Yabrud, another neighboring village.

“Today we only want to see the actual result of 20 years of fighting, and these settlers have to go away,” Abdel Rahman Saleh said. “I think the occupation forces want to take the land by force and I feel it’s only because they have weapons that they are able to stay on this land, but we will keep fighting for justice anyway”. The Mayor himself owns 5 dunams of the land at stake.

Yesh Din gathered evidence and presented an objection to the Israeli authorities about the relocation plan. Impact seems limited though, since according to Ynet, an Israeli media outlet, the process of building new homes for the evicted Amona residents has already began.

Following the new Palestinian claims, settlers backtracked from the relocation deal and instead called for renewed protests. Bennett, Netanyahu,” they posted on Facebook on Sunday. “We, the residents of Amona, feel that you have deceived us and the entire community, particularly the right-wing and the nationalist camp.”

In any case, settlers may be the ones who lose the less. Israeli peace organization Peace Now reported that each family in Amona will receive about $260,000 in compensation and will be supported through the relocation.

 

 

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