Amona: The Palestinian view
AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana
"Amona is a rampant cancer cell in a mountainous area," says Ibrahim Juma about the Israeli settlement outpost north of Ramallah, which was built on land he says he owns.
Amona was established in 1995, by young Israelis from a nearby settlement. It was never authorized by the Israeli government, and the issue of the ownership of the land on which it is built has been a major sticking point.
Israel's Supreme Court accepts the view that it is built on privately-owned Palestinian lands, and ordered it be evacuated by December 25.
Juma's situation is better than that of many Palestinians, who consider any Israeli settlement in the West Bank, "a cancer." With the help of the dovish "Yesh Din"(There is a Law) NGO, he succeeded in getting Israel's highest judicial body to recognize his claim to restore his lands taken by Israeli settlers without permission.
"Each farmer in this land has a memory, a story and something to be proud of in these lands, which bounds him to it," Juma notes. He describes the process by which Amona was built:
"They began to put water tanks for drinking there, in the territory of the Great Basin, and then declared it a closed military zone, then came caravans, a few years later they started building stone houses there".
Amona residents and their supporters reject the Supreme Court’s findings, contending 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.”
The outpost'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.
Juma says that from the beginning, he filed a complaint with what he calls the "Occupation Police in Beit El," located near Ramallah. The complaint was rejected, one reason being that the water tanks were 300 meters away.
"It’s painful and really infuriating," he tells i24news about seeing building works on lands he owns.
"You are a few kilometers from the land and cannot touch it, while you watch another person steal it from you and build a house on it. Every centimeter you lose, you feel like another piece of your body is being taken away."
He also has scant sympathy for the Amona settlers who the court ordered be evacuated. "This land was sustaining complete families, you're crying over only ten years, what about us? This is our land. We lived here hundreds of years and it has been a source of livelihood for us and our families for hundreds of years, but it's been robbed from us."
"Yesh Din" spokesman Gilad Grossman believes Amona is a special case. Prior to the 1967 Six Day War, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were annexed parts of Jordan and the authorities organized the land registries were organized differently. Jordanian authorities were able to determine which properties where privately owned.
In Amona and in Ofra (a nearby Israeli settlement) "there are well known land owners who have registered deeds."
Grossman notes that previous evacuation orders have never been implemented. Demolition orders exist for all buildings in Amona.
He will not state outright why he thinks the evacuation or demolition orders have not been carried out. Some commentators say it's because of political considerations, but Grossman will not be drawn, saying only that it’s "because of so or so considerations."
But he is clear about what he thinks has to happen to solve the dispute.
"There is a court decision that the settlement must be evacuated."
The Israel government has come up with various ideas to solve the imbroglio, but Grossman is not impressed with any of them, especially the one which would grant settlers land of other absentee landlords.
"In practice, this grants people who seized private land and refused to get out, the award and the territory of other people."
The most contentious proposal deal with the crisis sparked by Amona is the so-called regulation law, which would retroactively legalize thousands of settler homes built on Palestinian-owned land.
The bill, sponsored by the pro-settler Jewish Home party, sparked no end of criticism; in the end, a compromise was accepted dropping a clause that would have overridden the Courts decision on Amona. Critics of the bill are not mollified.
"This law is unconstitutional, because it practically eliminates the right of ownership of the Palestinians," Grossman says.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, is one of the most outspoken opponents of the demolition of the outpost, calling on the government to abandon its commitment to a two-state solution and to address the issue of Amona and construction in other settlements, despite international criticism.
“Trump’s victory is a tremendous opportunity for Israel to immediately announce its intention to renege on the idea of establishing Palestine in the heart of the country – a direct blow to our security and the justice of our cause," Bennett said when Trump’s victory was confirmed.
“This is the president-elect’s outlook as it appears in his platform, and that definitely should be our way. Salient, simple and clear. The era of the Palestinian state is over,” he added.
Bennett’s actions caused a furious response by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Proposals have also been raised to compensate the settlers, but Ibrahim Juma and his fellow Palestinian landowners believe they too deserve compensation for loss of revenues and the need for land reclamation.
Juma is adamant that he will accept no other solution but the return of his land.
"It was never about money, but of existence, of origins and roots, and this land is priceless."
He also has advice for those Israelis who oppose the Supreme Court's ruling on Amona:
"Since you claim to be the only democracy in the Middle East, respect the decision."
Shahin Nassar is an Arab-Israeli journalist and editor on i24news' Arabic desk.
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