Palestinians Lay Claim to Most of Land Israel Staked Out for Amona Settlers

In documents filed with Israeli authorities, Palestinians say two thirds of West Bank land in question privately owned.

Amona, an unauthorized Israeli outpost in the West Bank, east of the Palestinian town of Ramallah. Under an Israeli Supreme Court order, the government must tear down the outpost by the end of 2016. May 18, 2016 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Oded Balilty, AP

Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank on Thursday submitted their objections to the Civil Administration's plan to move the illegal outpost Amona to so-called "absentees' property" nearby.

The Palestinians, residents of the West Bank towns of Taibe, Ein Yabrud and Silwad, claim to own some two thirds of 35 plots the administration has allocated for Amona's new location.

In 2014 the High Court of Justice ruled that Amona was built illegally on private Palestinian lands and must be evicted within two years.

Last month the administration published a map in the Palestinian media of 35 plots close to the Amona's current location and asked the Palestinians who claim to own the land to prove it. Administration officials believe the plots are owned by Palestinians who left the West Bank in 1967.

A state-employed committee drafted an arrangement to rebuild the outpost's houses on nearby lands of absentee owners. Under the arrangement, the state will deposit rental fees for the land into a fund, which will be given whoever proves ownership of the land in the future, if such a person or persons appear.

The opponents say most of the plots marked by the administration don't belong to absentees at all, but to them. They attached various documents to their claims, including aerial photographs.

These documents have not been given to the media at this stage.

'For me the land is a way of life'

The leftist NGO Yesh Din, which is representing the land claimants, says they have the ownership papers and aerial photos proving the plots had been cultivated as late as the '90s.

Some opponents are the children and grandchildren of the lands' registered owners – so proving their rights to the plots should be straightforward, a Yesh Din lawyer said.

Other claimants are spouses, widows and other relations of the original owners. One of them, Miriam Hamad, 81, of Silwad, said "for me the land is a way of life. I remember spending day and night there in my childhood. The settlers, under the army's protection, took our land but I still dream of returning to it and touching it."

Hamad is one of the owners of the land on which Amona was built, which formerly belonged to her father. One of the plots classified as absentees' property is registered to her deceased husband, she says.

The Palestinians' lawyer said they submitted aerial photographs proving "the overwhelming majority of the landwas cultivated in 1997," long after their owners had allegedly fled, according to the state. Similar aerial photographs were submitted from 1992 and 1985.

The lawyers say the claimants' plots are spread over the entire area to which the state wants to relocate Amona, while the unclaimed plots are scattered in between, so the outpost cannot be moved to this site.

The last date for submitting objections is Sunday, so additional claimants may file objections by then.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has objected to a legislative move which would legitimize the outpost and enable it to remain where it is. Instead he instructed the state to examine relocating it to the nearby lands of presumably absentee owners.

However, Mendelblit hasn't released his final position about the issue. The government must evacuate Amona, which inhabits several dozen families, by December 25.