Allow Palestinians to Access Land That Used to Be Settler Outpost, Top Court Asks State

Amona was evacuated by court order in 2017, but landowners have still not been permitted to enter the area as state claims ban prevents friction

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Members of the Israeli security forces remove a caravan that settlers had brought to the former outpost of Amona near the Jewish settlement of Ofra, following clashes as dozens of settlers were evicted early on January 3, 2019
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

Israel's Supreme Court asked the state Wednesday to consider allowing Palestinians access to land belonging to them that was cleared when an illegal settler outpost was evacuated. 

The request came after a petition filed by the human rights group Yesh Din.

Amona, an outpost northwest of Ramallah, was evacuated by court order in February 2017 because it was illegally built on privately-owned Palestinian land. Over two years later, the landowners have still not been permitted to enter the area because of a demarcation order placed on the area.

A short time before the outpost was evacuated, a military order was placed barring entry to the zone without prior coordination. The initial purpose of the order was to prevent the Israelis who had settled in the outpost from returning. Regardless, as Haaretz has reported, settlers have returned to the area from time to time. They have maintained crops there, and even placed illegal structures after the evacuation. In January, Yesh Din petitioned the army to allow the Palestinian landowners access to their plots and to enforce the order barring access to the Israelis who keep returning.

On Sunday, the Supreme Court discussed the state's claim that the order barring entry to the area was issued to prevent friction. In her response, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut wrote that "the excuse that a large amount of forces is needed in order to allow people to merely exercise their right . . .  presents a difficulty."

Hayut noted the decision made last week involving the evacuated Homesh settlement's exclusion order. Homesh, north of Nablus, was evacuated at the time of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. After it was cleared out, a seizure order remained that had been put in place by the military, on whose authorization the settlement was established and Palestinians were kept out.

The order was withdrawn in 2013, but in October 2017, a demarcation order was put in place on Homesh, with the argument that it was intended to deal with illegal building on the land. Last week, the state announced that it was canceling the clause in the order that prevents Palestinians from working the land. Justice Daphne Barak-Erez asked the state whether the fact that those harmed by the situation have been barred entry passes the test of proportionality.    

Attorney Roi Shweka of the State Prosecutor's Office responded that the petition to evacuate Amona was postponed for a number of years as well, and then, too, Palestinians were barred entry to their lands. Justice Hayut asked that the state reexamine these limitations in Amona's case as well. Shweka requested 60 days to discuss the issue; the Supreme Court gave him 15.

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