Israeli Supreme Court President Asher Grunis ordered the government Thursday to evacuate Amona, the largest outpost in the West Bank and the center of drawn-out legal battles, within two years.
The verdict was given in response to an appeal submitted by the Palestinians, who say they own the land seized by settlers to build the outpost.
“Because the structures were built on private lands, it is impossible to authorize them, even retroactively,” Grunis stated in his ruling.
Amona was established in 1997 on privately owned Palestinian land in the Binyamin region north of Jerusalem. Nearly 50 families currently reside within the outpost.
Grunis also criticized the failure of the Israel Defense Forces to protect residents’ rights in the West Bank.
“The military commander is obligated to actively protect the property rights of residents, and in particular to protect them from illegal takeover of land and construction on it,” he said.
Explaining his decision to grant the state two years to complete the evacuation, Grunis said the extended period will allow alternative housing options for the evacuated settlers to be found.
“There is no doubt the consequences of the demolition orders will be difficult and painful for both the residents and their families, who settled down and created a community within the outpost,” Grunis said.
“But this difficulty is not sufficient to allow illegal construction on private land, and it does not justify lack of law enforcement,” he said.
The Supreme Court has on several occasions ordered that the outpost, located near the settlement of Ofra in the central West Bank, be dismantled. In 2006, troops razed nine homes after clashes with some 5,000 settlers and their sympathizers, but several dozen trailers have remained.
The government has repeatedly put off dismantling the rest of the outpost, despite court deadlines. Settlers recently claimed they had bought some of the land the outpost sits on, but Palestinians have vehemently denied this. The police have said the documents, which supposedly proved the sale, were apparently forged.
Responding to the settlers’ land ownership claims, Grunis said that even if they are authentic, “they do not ratify the illegal, unauthorized and non-designated construction, and therefore do not change the validity of the demolition orders.”
Itamar Sharon contributed to this report.