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Residents of Amona remain steadfast despite scheduled upcoming demolition

An Israeli girl walks with her bicycle near her home in the wildcat Amona settlement, northeast of the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli occupied West Bank, on September 7, 2016
Menahem Kahana (AFP/File)
'We are human beings and we have lived here for two decades already. All my children grew up here'

Twenty years ago, a handful of young residents from the Israeli community of Ofra, located just a short drive north of Jerusalem, sought to lay the foundation for a new neighborhood on an adjacent hilltop.

Shortly thereafter, the new outpost of “Amona,” attracted a number of young couples largely driven by religious-Zionist idealism who seized upon the opportunity to help expand the new community.

Today, Amona, which is now home to over 40 Israeli families, is scheduled to be demolished next month on December 25, in accordance with a 2014 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that found the entire community to have been built on private Palestinian land. Amona’s residents are not prepared to accept a scenario in which they will be evacuated; not after they spent more than a dozen years raising their children in a location they called home.

“It’s totally not acceptable for us,” Elad Ziv, a resident of Amona told i24news. “We are human beings and we have lived here for two decades already. All my children grew up here.”

Eldad Ziv

“This is our home,” continued Elad, referring to Amona and the surrounding Binyamin region as the “cradle of Hebrew civilization.” “Our forefathers were here. We are an ancient people and we finally came home.”

Elad’s daughter, the oldest of seven, is already planning to follow in her father’s footsteps by starting a home of her own in Amona. “My eldest daughter is getting married next week and she’s going to live in Amona,” Elad added. “She is living in Amona because this is where she grew up.”

Rejecting the Supreme Court’s findings, Elad contended that Amona was built on land that had not been used or inhabited by anyone previously.

“There was absolutely nothing here,” he stressed. “No one cultivated Amona, no one lived in Amona, it was just a mountain of rocks.”

Instead, Elad argued that the documentation was based on vague land deeds given by Jordanian King Hussein during Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank from 1949 to 1967.

“You can’t just come and transfer people because someone says the land is his,” Elad added. “It’s not moral.”

The Palestinian litigants and their supporters however, insist that it is they who have the moral high-ground.

“Even the Israeli courts, having successfully ignored the illegality of Israel's settlement enterprise as a whole, weren't able to qualify the stealing of one person's right to property so that it can be granted to another,” said Amit Gilutz, spokesman for the Israeli NGO B’Tselem. “We shouldn't be deceived into thinking that, because in this particular case there is clear documentation proving Palestinian ownership over the land, judicial oversight exists as a whole.”

Gilutz, whose organization describes itself as one that that aims to protect the human rights of residents in the West Bank, gave recognition to the human rights of Amona’s residents as well.

“B’Tselem doesn’t have a position on whether Amona’s residents should be compensated,” Gilutz said when asked to respond to potential remedies for those currently living in Amona. “If the government compensates the settlers, so be it as long as the remedy doesn’t come at the expense of the Palestinian population.”

Other possible remedies have already been discussed and considered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet, among which include relocating Amona’s residents to 98 new housing units next to Shiloh, a Jewish town located further north in the Binyamin region. The plan was criticized a month ago by the Obama Administration and the European Union, both of whom argued that such a remedy would constitute as building another “settlement” and would threaten the viability of a Palestinian state.

More recently, an alternative plan has gained traction in Netanyahu’s coalition aimed at preventing any evacuation of Amona by passing a bill that retroactively legalizes the Amona outpost. The prime minister’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit has adamantly opposed the proposed bill referred to as the “Amona Law,” arguing that the authority to legalize an outpost in the West Bank solely rests with the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria.

Elad however, is calling upon Netanyahu to back the proposed law and to prevent a scenario in which security forces will forcefully evacuate Amona’s residents.

“We are not going to leave here by ourselves,” Elad stressed. “Around 20,000 people will be here to support us and we will have to be carried out. I really hope we don’t get to that situation.”

Nevertheless, Elad remains hopeful that Netanyahu can stop Amona from being demolished.

“Most of the people of Israel really want to see this government pass the Amona Law,” Elad said. “If Netanyahu will be strong enough, he could save Amona.”

Jonathan Benedek is a journalist at i24news

READ MORE: Amona: The Palestinian view

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