Barkat: Amona Demolition Could Have Major Impact on Yerushalayim

A bulldozer takes apart a house during a destruction of an illegal structure in the village of Isawiyyeh. Photo by Mohamar Awad / FLASH90
A bulldozer demolishes a house during the destruction of an illegal structure in the village of Isawiyyeh. (Mohamar Awad/Flash90)

The law is the law, Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat wrote in a letter to State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit this week, and if the law in Amona is that homes that were built on private Arab property must be demolished on the say-so of the landowners, the same must apply everywhere, including Yerushalayim. Except that the homes that will be demolished there will be Arab homes, not Jewish ones.

“I believe it would be proper to implement an arrangement whereby the Amona residents should be able to remain in their homes, since this is a settlement that has been on the ground for 20 years,” Barkat wrote. “It has come to my attention that the legal department has determined that there are similar instances in Yerushalayim, especially in Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, where homes were illegally built on Jewish-owned land. According to the law that would apply to Amona, the city would be obligated to evict thousands of Arab families and demolish their homes.”

In their response to the state’s request for a seven-month delay of the demolition of homes in Amona – which is supposed to take place by the end of the month – the presumptive landowners told the High Court Sunday that they opposed any further delays.

The state had requested the seven-month delay in order to arrange for a peaceful resolution of the issue, which according to the latest plan entails building hundreds of homes in a neighborhood of Shiloh in the Binyamin region. According to the state, the case of Amona differs significantly from that of other outposts, because the state sponsored it and poured money and resources into its establishment. The proposed solution of a land swap – which has been rejected by the Palestinians, under the advisement of leftist Israeli groups who are advising them – would be the preferable solution, and indeed, the issue of unclear land title and compensation is applicable to Israel proper as well as Yehudah and Shomron. For these reasons and others, it would be worthwhile for the court to postpone the demolitions, if not require the Palestinians to accept a land swap.

According to Israeli law, the mere claim of a dispute is sufficient to require demolition of homes built by Jews, even if no evidence is presented. Once the homes are demolished, the process of clarifying to whom the land actually belongs can begin. A law proposed by Jewish Home would replace the land claimed by Palestinians at Amona and other outposts with state land of an equal or greater value that is not in dispute.

But Barkat’s letter lends a new view to what could become an even thornier problem, if the court upholds the demolition orders. In a statement, the Yerushalayim municipality said that “Mayor Barkat has asked State Attorney Mandelblit to assess the implications of the Amona decision on the city. There are many cases in Yerushalayim that are identical to the situation in Amona, where Arabs have built homes on privately owned or municipal land and have lived there for decades. Obviously we cannot have a situation where there is one law for Arabs and another for Jews.”