Amid Palestinian terror, settlers set up 2 caravans at razed Amona outpost

Right-wing activists say they purchased 40 dunams of land on hilltop in central West Bank from Palestinian landowners; Defense Ministry says move wasn’t coordinated as required

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Settlers install a pair of caravans on the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood on December 13, 2018. (Bezalel Smotrich/Twitter)
Settlers install a pair of caravans on the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood on December 13, 2018. (Bezalel Smotrich/Twitter)

Settlers under the cover of darkness Thursday night installed a pair of mobile homes on the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood in the central West Bank, claiming to have purchased the land from nearby Palestinians.

An official in the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction, told The Times of Israel that the move was not coordinated with them as required.

Amona was established in 1995 and demolished in February 2017 after the High Court of Justice ruled it had been built on private Palestinian land. Last March, its evacuees moved into Amichai, the first newly constructed West Bank settlement in over 25 years. The community is located just east of the Shiloh settlement in the central West Bank.

Since the demolition, the IDF has declared the hilltop a closed military zone, meaning the presence of the settlers at the site would have been illegal. The army has cited the order to prevent Palestinian landowners from accessing the land over the past year. A police spokeswoman did not respond to The Times of Israel’s query as to why the military order had not been enforced.

Israeli police forces evacuate people from the synagogue the illegal outpost of Amona, on the second day into the eviction on February 2, 2017.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amichai Boaron, a former resident and community leader of Amona, said that the residents — with the help of “investors and donors” — had purchased 40 dunam (10 acres) of land from the original Palestinian landowners. However, he declined to show the documents proving the transaction, disclose the identity of the Palestinian landowners or the date when the transaction was allegedly made.

(From L-R) Amona leader Avichai Boaron, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich and Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan stand in front of a new caravan that was installed on the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood on December 14, 2018. (Binyamin Regional Council)

The Amona residents battled for over a decade in the High Court to prevent the demolition of their community. During that time, they had also claimed to have legally purchased the plots on which the outpost stood, but the state deemed the claim to have been bogus.

In 2016, a pair of Israelis were indicted for falsifying documents that purported to show the purchase by settlers of land throughout the West Bank from Palestinian landowners. Among the purchases alleged to have been falsified were for plots on which illegal homes were built in Amona, Migron, Beit El and Givat Assaf. The case is still ongoing with the next hearing scheduled for Wednesday, but a gag has been placed on the identities of the two suspects.

The late Thursday night installation of the caravans was facilitated by the Binyamin Regional Council where the Amona outpost was located. Its chairman Yisrael Gantz said in a statement said that “after two years in which the location had been deserted, we are privileged to return Israeli life here,” asserting that the plots had been legally purchased.

View of caravan houses in the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona on January 16, 2017. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

“Yesterday I promised that we would establish a new settlement in Binyamin (central West Bank) in response to the recent serious attacks. Today we have done it,” Gantz declared.

Also on site for the caravan installation was Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, who called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow the mobile homes to remain.

“The last time that I stood freezing in Amona was the terrible night of the expulsion and destruction of the thriving, flourishing community that was there. It was a great pleasure to freeze there again tonight, but this time with a warm and happy heart,” he tweeted.

The move comes amid a week of Palestinian violence throughout the West Bank that had settler leaders calling on the government to allow the military to take extensive punitive measures against Palestinians in addition to expanding Israeli settlement.

Hours after the caravans were placed, a Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli soldier and bashed his head with a rock, seriously injuring him, at a military post outside the Beit El settlement. The assailant then fled the scene, prompting a manhunt.

The attack took place close to the site of Thursday’s deadly terror shooting at a bus stop near the Givat Assaf outpost in which two soldiers were killed and two others — a soldier and a civilian — were seriously injured.

On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist opened fire from a passing vehicle on a group of Israelis standing at a bus stop near the Ofra settlement. Seven people were injured, including a pregnant woman whose baby died after being delivered prematurely.

Groups of settler youth have responded to the violence hurling stones at Palestinian vehicles throughout the West Bank, reportedly shooting live bullets at homes in the villages of Ein Yabroud and Beitin, and assaulting a Palestinian bus driver in the Modiin Illit settlement. Over a dozen Palestinians have been injured in these various attacks, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.

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