Evacuated Amona Settlers Must Compensate Palestinian Landowners, Says State

After the High Court ordered evacuation of Amona, built partly on private Palestinian land, the state is asking the court to demand that residents foot the bill of 300,000 shekels.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Amona, in 2014. Residents knew the land was privately owned, said the state.
Amona, in 2014. Residents knew the land was privately owned, said the state.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Three weeks after the High Court of Justice ruled that the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Amona must be evacuated and destroyed by the end of 2016, the state is asking the court to demand that its residents pay 300,000 shekels ($75,000) to compensate the Palestinian owners of the land on which some of the homes were built.

The state told the court that the organization representing Amona's members “tried to force the state, in every way possible, [to support] the existence of the outpost.”

In 2008, the Palestinian landowners, along with the Yesh Din legal advocacy organization and attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zacharia, filed a petition requesting that the entire outpost be destroyed. Simultaneously, the landowners filed a civil suit demanding payment for damages caused by the construction of the outpost. The state then filed a third-party suit against Amona, claiming that it and not the government had caused said damages.

Last July the state reached a compromise with the landowners, in which it was agreed that they would receive 300,000 shekels in compensation. Now the state wants the court to order the Amona settlers themselves to recompense the Palestinians.

Two weeks ago, the state submitted its briefs in the case, filed by the Jerusalem district prosecutor, which included harsh criticism of the actions of the settlers and their representatives.

The settlers have stressed that it was the government which originally established the outpost, and thus no claims can legally be lodged against them. This claim has been repeated by Amona residents, throughout the entire period of legal proceedings against them.

In response to that charge, the state wrote the court: “Amona's representatives and residents tried to force upon the state the existence of the outpost, despite the illegal circumstances of its establishment. The picture is clear: These people have throughout the years been aware that this is land under private ownership, and the settlement of the site and building of structures there is illegal.”

There is an enormous distance between the claims and statements of the group representing the settlers, and reality on the ground, the state said, adding that Amona was established by representatives of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, who pressured the council and the state to underwrite its development. In response to the settlers' claims that the government itself initiated and financed the outpost, the state's legal representatives told the court that such funding ended in 2004. Moreover, they emphasized that the money was transferred via the regional council, the driving force behind the development of Amona. The state said the council – including its head, Pinhas Wallerstein – had acted illegally to obtain funds from the Housing Ministry for such activities, as did the founders of the community.

The largest unauthorized settlement outpost on the West Bank, Amona was originally built in 1997 on privately owned land near the settlement of Ofra; it now numbers some 50 families.

In 2006 the state dismantled nine permanent structures at the outpost. Two years later, the Palestinian landowners petitioned the High Court, with Yesh Din, demanding demolition of the entire outpost on the grounds that it had been built illegally on private land. The government response was that Amona would be demolished before the end of 2012, although that date was later postponed to June 2013.

At one point the government changed its position, saying it would only demolish structures on plots owned by the individual petitioners. At the same time, Amona residents said that they had legally purchased additional land. Israel Police later determined that some of the property deeds were forged.

In December 2014, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis ordered the evacuation and complete demolition of Amona, within two years.

“These structures were built on privately owned land so there is no possibility of authorizing their construction, even retroactively,” Grunis wrote in his ruling. “The military commander of Judea and Samaria must act decisively to protect the private property of residents who are under his control, including protection from usurpation of and illegal construction on their lands. Under such circumstances, the highest priority must be given to enforcement of work stoppage and demolition orders.”

In a related development, the head of the group representing Amona, attorney Avihai Boaron, was given 19th place on the Knesset slate at the Habayit Hayehudi primary last week. However, the state’s brief implies that Boaron did not tell the truth in an affidavit he presented to the court during the recent proceedings.

Boaron had declared that the group representing the Amona residents in court does not own land per se, but is rather a sort of homeowners' association that helps residents cope with day-to-day affairs. But it turns out that in 2006 Boaron told the High Court in an affidavit that the group in question |has owned the land and structures for a long time.”

Haaretz did not receive a response from Boaron on this issue.

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