With Settlers Set to Be Evacuated, Palestinian Landowners Wait to Return

Even after 20 years, Maryam Hamad says she believes she’ll get to return to her land, and she’s counting the days until Amona's scheduled evacuation.

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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80-year-old Maryam Hamad on Tuesday, December 13, 2016.
80-year-old Maryam Hamad on Tuesday, December 13, 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

Maryam Hamad was about 60 the last time she was able to go to her land, on part of which the Amona outpost now stands. Hamad, now past 80, lives in an old house in the Palestinian town of Silwad not far from the outpost.

She has documents attesting to her ownership of Lot No. 118 of the town, where several trailers from the outpost now sit. These documents are signed by the Civil Administration authorities. However, the administration will not make public the ownership registry or confirm if such a document was issued.

The false claims prevalent on the right that there are no specific Palestinians claiming ownership rights to the land where Amona sits are especially infuriating in light of her story. Hamad shows wheat that she says was harvested on that land in the 1990s, and she still has containers full of wheat and barley. “It’s my last memory of this land, from the last time I was there,” she says. “That was in 1998.”

The Amona outpost in early December 2016.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Since the outpost was established, Palestinians have not been able to get to those lands, which are definitely privately-owned property. Hamad’s case is particularly clear, as she has documents naming her and other relatives as the owners of one lot. The outpost is visible from her home, but she hasn’t been able to set foot there for more than 20 years. “I have 25 dunams and I don’t know what’s happening there.”

Hamad is the first signatory to the High Court petition, filed by lawyers from Yesh Din, to evacuate Amona. There are six more petitioners who either possess similar deeds or are the legal heirs of people who previously acquired ownership of the land, based on the common practice in the West Bank of acquiring land by working it. Ibrahim Yaaqub of Ein Yabrud is another signatory.

“This is our land,” he says as he gazes at the outpost. “It was my family’s land. We worked it. It’s excellent for farming. Since the settlers starting building their houses there, we haven’t been able to go there.”

Yaaqub holds a deed to Lot No. 96, where there are trailers as well. He, too, has not been there since 1998, and earns a living from farming other lots that he owns. “I’m waiting to go see what happened with my land. There were 36 dunams, and a well. It was the center of life – when there’s water, you can grow anything in that land.”

'I'm dreaming of the day I can return'

Hamad says she believes she’ll get to return to her land, and she’s counting the days until the scheduled evacuation. She says she would never be willing to sell her land. “My feeling for the land is something that only farmers could understand. I’m dreaming of the day I can return. I wouldn’t trade this land for its weight in gold.”

Still, the settlers’ argument that the evacuation is pointless since even afterwards the Palestinians won’t be able to access the lands has some weight. If the outpost is in fact moved to adjacent lands, as the government wishes, it’s quite likely that military restraining orders preventing the Palestinians from getting to the land will be issued once the trailers are removed, for security reasons.

Though no such decision has been made yet, Yesh Din attorney Shlomi Zecharia, who is representing the petitioners, says that if experience is any guide, such a move is to be expected. “The military regime that limits Palestinian movement near Israeli settlements could make the Palestinians’ return to the land hard to impossible,” he says.

Unlike Hamad, Yaaqub is very skeptical. “On December 26, maybe they’ll let us go to our lands. But we’ll probably be left with the same problem. I still won’t be able to get my land back,” he says.

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