Instead of evacuating West Bank outpost, state continues to humiliate itself

One year after it was ordered to remove the illegal outpost of Amona, the government is now claiming that the evacuation has to be postponed, since it ‘may harm the interests of the state.’ We are, after all, negotiating with the Palestinians.

By Yesh Din (written by Yossi Gurvitz)

Mariam Hassan Hamad, resident of the village of Silwad, whose land was taken by the settlers of Amona. (photo: Yesh Din)
Mariam Hassan Hamad, resident of the village of Silwad, whose land was taken by the settlers of Amona. (photo: Yesh Din)

Last August, the High Court of Justice ruled that the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona is to be totally evacuated, with the exception of those plots of lands which the settlers claim to have purchased – claims about which there are, to put it mildly, serious doubts. Thus, the court rejected the scandalous interpretation by the Attorney General, who tried to transform the evacuation order of an entire outpost into an order for the removal of one structure. The state disgraced itself during that hearing, with one justice commenting that “it seems the state does not understand what it is saying,” while another wondered whether the state had realized its new position effectively refuted its earlier claims. One would think the state ought to have learned its lesson. Instead, it decided to humiliate itself again.

Instead of implementing the court’s order, the state is attempting a very old shtick: it is now claiming that the evacuation of Amona has to be postponed, since it is afraid that “such an evacuation in such a time may harm the interests of the state.” We are, after all, negotiating with the Palestinians.

Israel and the Palestinians have been in some stage of negotiations for more than 20 years now. Amona is a perpetual trespassing on private Palestinian lands – a fact neither the government nor the settlers dispute – that has continued, in various forms, since 1995. That is, it is a continuous violation of the law that has lasted for 18 years and counting. Given the languid tempo of the talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, and given that the last time Israel agreed to transfer territories to the Palestinians was the Hebron Agreement of 1997 (the 2005 Gaza Disengagement was carried out explicitly without cooperation with the Palestinians), one can assume with certainty that what the government is asking the court to do is let Amona be for years to come (this is after the court has already ruled on the issue). One also wonders about the great threat to the “interests of the state”: the Palestinians are not likely to object to the removal of Amona, and as for the Americans, the Israeli government promised them a decade ago it would remove all outposts. Are we dealing with a diplomatic crisis or a political crisis, one that may endanger the Netanyahu coalition?

The shtick the government is trying to pull can be called the “Iqrit and Biram gambit.” These two Palestinian villages were evacuated by IDF order during what Israel calls its War of Independence in 1948-9. In 1951 the residents appealed to the High Court of Justice, which ordered the state to return them to their villages. The state, instead, made a mockery of the court’s decision and never implemented it. Tragically, the villagers believed the state’s repeated promises and did not press for enforcement of the decision.

Two years later, using the dirty legal fiction of the Land Acquisition Law – which legalized the retroactive expropriation of land belonging to Palestinians before they were turned into refugees – the state denied residents access to their land, and then, it being vacant, declared it “abandoned.” Thus, the government usurped the villages’ land. A month later, the IDF wiped the villages off the face of the earth, thereby creating “facts on the ground.” The state then divided the land between local kibbutzim and a “nature preserve.” Ever since, all of the appeals that the villagers have submitted to the High Court have failed, as the “facts on the ground” were long set in place.

This, one reasonably suspects, is the road the government is taking with the High Court decision about Amona: force it to wither away through endless extensions and postponements, all the while setting more “facts on the ground.” In two years time, the government will be able to claim that although these are private Palestinian lands, a generation of settler children who know no other home have grown up here and, come on, these are only Palestinians, anyway.

Until that which is supposed to be temporary will become effectively permanent. After all, the occupation, too, is supposed to be temporary; yet nothing is more permanent.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.