Much of Amona Outpost Built on Cultivated Palestinian Land, Civil Administration Says

Findings contradict West Bank settlers’ claim site was unused rocky hilltop before they came in 1996.

Most of the land where the northern West Bank outpost of Amona now stands were worked by Palestinians before the outpost went up in 1996, according to a Civil Administration document. The document contradicts the settlers’ claim that the site was a rocky hilltop before they moved there.

Amona, one of the first outposts, was built near the settlement of Ofra, entirely on private land registered to Palestinians from the nearby village of Silwad. In 2006, the state demolished six structures at the outpost and recently, following a petition to the High Court of Justice by landowners, the settlers demolished another house on their own.

Over the years the settlers have claimed that there had been nothing there before they came. That is the narrative of a film made about the site, “Amona, the whole story.”

However, it turns out that not only was the land privately owned by Palestinians, it had also been cultivated.

In a case now before the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, landowners are claiming, through the human rights group Yesh Din and attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zacharia, that the state must compensate them for its failure to evacuate the outpost.

As part of its case, the state this month submitted the opinion of the Civil Administration’s real estate appraiser Raphael Marciano and another official involved in monitoring land use in the West Bank, Gilad Pelman. After examining aerial photographs from 1985, the two discovered that 27 percent of the central lot on the site, lot 96, which measures 36 dunams (about 9 acres) was cultivated in 1996 when the outpost was founded.

In lot 93, measuring 24 dunams (some 6 acres), 82 percent was under cultivation. In lot 110, a small lot in which a structure was demolished last month because it had been built on private land, 68 percent was under cultivation. Lot 118, measuring 71 dunams (almost 18 acres) was found not to have been cultivated. Marciano has calculated that compensation should be in the amount of NIS 185 per year per cultivated dunam, and NIS 110 per year per dunam. The plaintiffs say they should receive a much higher amount.

Meanwhile, another hearing about Amona was held in the High Court on Wednesday. In 2008, landowners and Yesh Din petitioned the court asking for the evacuation of the entire outpost. But because the settlers had purchased part of the land only two lots were evacuated, while 30 structures on private land that is not claimed to have been purchased were not evacuated. On Wednesday, attorneys Sfard and Zacharia told the High Court that the state had shown contempt of court by not evacuating everything that had been built on private land.

Justice Esther Hayut, who was critical of the state’s position, said: “You cannot assume that what you are asking, and about which no decision has been rendered, is the given state of affairs.”

The state’s representative, head of the Justice Ministry’s High Court Petitions Department, Osnat Mandel, said the demand to evacuate additional land must come from additional petitioners.

Olivier Fitousi