Much ado about Amona
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Hebrew media review

Much ado about Amona

A High Court decision to push ahead with the demolition of a West Bank outpost has lawmakers worried, pundits fuming

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

View of caravan homes at the Amona Jewish outpost in the West Bank, October 6, 2016. (FLASH90)
View of caravan homes at the Amona Jewish outpost in the West Bank, October 6, 2016. (FLASH90)

The High Court’s rejection of a petition to delay the demolition of an illegal West Bank outpost has the politicians scrambling, the press chattering and settlers planning for the inevitable. The demolition date was set two years ago, and the court shot down the government’s appeal to keep the bulldozers at bay.

The court’s rejection appears to have been considered fait accompli, and therefore not remarkable enough to become front page news. But Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s forceful rejection of a bill to undermine the court’s ruling comes as a shock.

Mandelblit, a close associate of the prime minister, fumed at the ministerial committee’s bill retroactively legalizing outposts like Amona, saying he rejected legislative solutions that break constitutional and international law. “We cannot accept solutions that are outside the boundaries of the law, and we cannot accept legislation that hinders High Court rulings,” he’s quoted saying. His face and statement grace the front pages of Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth, while Netanyahu’s assurances that the government was working to solve the problem gets far less attention.

Yedioth Ahronoth waxes poetic to distract its readers from the tedious facts, but its bottom line is clear and unsympathetic. “Over the years a bourgeois community established itself, which lives in temporary trailer homes, on land that the court ruled was private and belongs to Palestinians. The state, as the authority, let this place blossom and [gave] the residents the impression it was alright. But nothing looked alright in Amona yesterday.”

A law to legalize Amona and other illegal settlements of its kind goes before the Knesset Wednesday morning, and in the meantime thousands of the outpost’s supporters are planning to deluge the community of 40-some-odd families in protest, multiplying its size several-fold. The countdown to conflict has begun and, though they don’t celebrate Christmas, the residents of Amona are due to get the gift of home demolition on December 25. Amona residents are quoted by Haaretz saying that they will “stand as a fortified wall” when the IDF’s Civil Administration comes to tear down their homes. Israel Hayom warns that unspecified politicians fear the community of barely 200 people living on a hilltop in the West Bank may topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

But, as always, the pundits outnumber the reporters in covering the issue and conveying the papers’ positions to their readers.

Haaretz’s Yossi Verter shares the concerns of Israel Hayom’s unnamed politicians worried about the government falling because of disagreement among the coalition parties over Amona. “Might the government of Israel fall because of 42 portable buildings erected fraudulently and furtively on a hilltop somewhere deep in the West Bank 20 years ago? Logic says no,” he argues, but then again, since when has logic applied in Israeli politics?

Nonetheless, he says the odds of it happening are slim. Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett isn’t looking to leave the government anytime soon and will suffice with trying to push the bill to retroactively legalize outposts through instead. “Nobody in politics believes that this law will stop the eviction [of Amona]. It’s not yet clear whether what will happen tomorrow in the Knesset plenum, or whether the Kulanu party, which holds veto power over the bill to undermine the position of the High Court of Israel, will vote for it.”

Yedioth Ahronoth offers two differing opinions, with Ben-Dror Yemini saying that whether the Supreme Court comes down on the right or left in its decision, the most important thing is rule of law. “There is only one thing more terrible than a bad High Court of Justice decision: disobedience of the decision,” he writes. “This is what political groups try to do, on the left and the right. The decision made yesterday against a delay, another day, of carrying out a judicial decision is a red light — and it’s right to be placed.”

Similar legal predicaments concerning illegal Bedouin communities in southern Israel were protested by the left, but the court ruled in favor of demolition, he notes. “This is the moment of truth. The ball is in the Israeli government’s court. It carried out decisions in the Bedouin cases despite the protestation of the left. It needs to realize the decision in Amona despite the protest of the right.”

On the opposite side of the aisle, Yossi Dagan rails at the discriminatory,”Kafkaesque” situation in Amona, charging that the ruling discriminates against settlers and in favor of Palestinians in an absurd fashion. The government invested in Amona’s construction and now turns its backs on its residents. He claims that something like that didn’t happen with Bedouins taking Jewish land in the Negev, “then Justice Mazuz proposed expropriating the Jewish owner’s land.”

Israel Hayom’s Haim Shine unequivocally asserts that “the land is entirely ours, but we must respect the High Court of Justice.” A bold statement in favor of settlements, but not Amona, and that’s just the headline of his op-ed. The dream of establishing a Jewish state requires occasional compromise “on sensitive issues,” he says. “It’s therefore critical to protect the position, respect and authority of the High Court, even if sometimes there’s disagreement by one group or another about the substance of its rulings.”

He sides with the court in its decision, while speaking to the religious-nationalist readers: “The entire land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel, since it first took to the stage of history. At the same time, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Tomb of Joseph in Nablus and Arvana the Jebusite’s threshing floor in Jerusalem were paid for in full even though they could have had them for free or taken them from their owners by force.”

“Realizing the vision of settling the land must be done by righteous and just people, so that in many years hence people won’t come and tell our grandchildren and great-grandchildren ‘it’s stolen in your hands,'” he says, oblivious to the fact that there’s no shortage of Palestinians and their supporters today who argue thus.

Taking a more aggressive stance on the same page, Dror Eydar rails at the left, saying it’s “scared to death at the possibility of imposing Israeli law on Area C [of the West Bank]. It long ago planned to part with West Bank and East Jerusalem, but reality doesn’t cooperate with fantasies of peace. Now [US President-elect Donald] Trump fell on them. We’ll say again: in 1967 history granted Zionism Zion. One position existed when these territories weren’t in our control and we only dreamed of them, and an entirely different one existed when we returned to them. These areas are eternally connected with our objective and identity as a people to live in our ancient homeland. Deniers of the redemption among us are chock-full of excuses why we shouldn’t [legalize] the position of Amona as an example for the rest of the places subject to legal controversy.”

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