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Israeli Supreme Court postpones evacuation of illegal Amona outpost

Dec. 24, 2016 7:36 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 24, 2016 10:20 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli Supreme Court Thursday accepted the Israeli government’s request to postpone the evacuation of the illegal Amona outpost -- built on privately owned Palestinian land in the central occupied West Bank -- until Feb. 8 in order to give additional time for the Israeli government to provide alternative housing for its residents.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Supreme Court issued the extension of the illegal outpost’s demolition date, which had been scheduled for Saturday, after Amona residents submitted a statement expressing their commitment to leave the outpost peacefully.

The postponement was in response to a government request for additional time to build alternative settler housing on a plot of land nearby the illegal outpost where dozens of housing units are supposed to be constructed for the evacuees. The land has also been claimed as the private property of several Palestinian landowners in nearby villages.

Israeli rights group Yesh Din, that is appealing the government plan to relocate the settlers on another plot of privately owned Palestinian land, was quoted by Haaretz as saying that "the state is not concealing the fact that there is currently no plan for transferring the Amona settlers and therefore the only aim of a delay is to try to find how the law can be circumvented."

The demolition postponement came after weeks of right-wing Israelis camping out at the Amona outpost -- considered illegal both by Israeli and international law -- in a show of refusal against the impending demolitions, with Israeli leaders expressing concern over the possibility of violence erupting between the Israeli settlers and soldiers.

However, on Sunday the residents of the illegal outpost voted to approve a relocation plan put forward by the Israeli government, after weeks of discussions trying to assuage settler anger over the mandated evacuation of the outpost.

Haaretz reported at the time that the government plan would see the majority of them relocated to a nearby hilltop to lease, claiming that the property had been abandoned by its Palestinian owners.

"After 20 years of pioneering settlement, and against all odds, and after two years of struggle, we have decided to suspend our struggle, and take the government's offer to build 52 houses and public buildings in new Amona," Ynet quoted the Amona settlers as saying at the time.

Following the settlers’ acceptance of the government plan, reports quickly emerged that the land slated for the relocation of Amona residents was also privately owned by Palestinians, with Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now pointing out that “the Israeli government is replacing one land theft by another.”

Israeli rights group Yesh Din announced this week that it had filed an appeal on behalf of a Palestinian who claimed to own the land the settlers had been allocated, emphasizing the land in fact has not been abandoned, while there was evidence supporting a number of other claims to land earmarked for the Amona settlers, in the Palestinian villages of Silwad, Ein Yabrud, and other neighboring towns.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now published a map earlier this month of the four plots of land the Israeli government was setting aside for Amona’s evacuees.

At the time, the appeal for plot 38 -- which is targeted as the alternative housing site for Amona settlers -- had not been submitted, nor had any appeal been submitted for 28 or 29. However, an appeal had been submitted regarding plot number 30 by one of its owners, who Peace Now said shared ownership over the entire plot with other Palestinians.

“In an unprecedented move, the government now seeks to divide the plot and then use the proportion of the land which is not owned by the petitioner for the relocation of the Amona settlers,” Peace Now said.

Referring to all four plots, Peace Now asserted that “These lands are private lands and their use for the purpose of settlement is contrary to previous legal opinions of the (Israeli) State.”

Mayor of Silwad Abd al-Rahman Salih told Ma’an on Monday that the municipal council had already been notified by Israeli authorities of plans to confiscate the privately-owned land in the town's outskirts.

"Israel claims the new land slated for confiscation has been deserted by its owners who live abroad," the mayor said. “We have all the documents to prove that the land is a private property of the town, known locally as Hawd Shbeikat. But this (Israeli) government brushes aside even the decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court."

Rights groups have highlighted that, while the settler outposts constructed in Palestinian territory are considered illegal by the Israeli government, each of the some 196 government-approved Israeli settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are also built in direct violation of international law.

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