Amona, Ofra Residents Demand Action Against Impending Demolitions

YERUSHALAYIM -
Jewish supporters prepare to resist the evacuation of Amona, in Dec. 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

With the Arrangements Law currently frozen, residents of the Binyamin town of Ofra — where nine homes are to be demolished in the middle of February — are losing patience. At the end of a meeting over the weekend about the situation, residents of the town announced that they would go on a hunger strike next week to protest the government’s foot-dragging on legalizing the homes and preventing the demolition.

As in Amona, the nine homes in a neighborhood on the edge of Ofra are built on land claimed by Arabs. Under current Israeli law, such claims are enough to warrant the demolition of homes even before proof of ownership is supplied, with the High Court ruling that the adjudication of whether or not the land is actually owned by absentee Arabs is made when the land is vacant.

The High Court has actually issued several dozen demolition orders for homes in towns throughout Yehudah and Shomron on the basis of these rules. Such demolitions would be halted under the Settlements Arrangement Law, which would replace the current practice with a new arbitration process that would, among other things, advocate land swaps in which land claimed by Palestinians is exchanged for state land of equal or greater value that is not in dispute. The law is designed to prevent the demolition of homes at outposts and settlements that were built in good faith, but later were discovered to have been built on private land.

“The demotions scheduled for February are the direct result of the government’s failure to act,” residents said in a statement. “The demolition orders by the High Court and the failure of the government to act are a clear expression — one among many — that illustrate the ongoing, organized injury to the efforts to live a normal life by residents of Yehudah and Shomron. We expect that Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked (both of Jewish Home) [will] end the threat of demolitions in settlements.”

Meanwhile, residents of Amona, where demolitions are set to take place Feb. 8, plan to protest in the wake of what they said was the failure of the government to live up to its end of the bargain that arranged for them to leave their homes quietly and move to alternative accommodations on the Amona hilltop that are not subject to ownership claims by Arabs.

In a letter to Netanyahu and Bennett, the residents said that so far, the alternative accommodations the government promised them in return for the peaceful evacuation of their homes have yet to materialize. Not only that — but work to prepare the land for the placement of caravans has not yet begun.

Under the deal arrived at by both sides, evacuated residents will stay in caravans to be built on several land parcels on the Amona hilltop. The state guarantees that the caravans will remain in place until new homes being built for them in the nearby community of Shiloh are ready. In addition, the state will examine the possibility of constructing 52 permanent homes and communal buildings on the hilltop, on state land that the government is confident will not be challenged by absentee Arabs who will claim ownership of the land, as happened with the existing homes in Amona. The deal will initially provide caravans for 24 of the 40-plus families currently living in Amona.

In fact, say residents, not even a tractor has been seen on the parcels of land that the government is supposed to set up for the installation of the caravans.

“On December 18 of last year we signed an agreement with the government, after negotiations that took place over many hours, at the impetus of the government,” residents said in the letter. “We feel that we have been led astray, along with the public, especially voters for the national camp. We see you as responsible for this farce. We have no choice but to renew our public protests, and to call upon the thousands who support us to once again pick up the struggle against removing us from our homes. We will not allow ourselves or the public to be fooled, as was done to residents of Gush Katif [who ended up dispossessed and homeless for a decade, in some cases]. We will not agree to any more compromises, but will demand that the Arrangements Law be passed immediately, without an exception for our homes.”