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Amona residents given 48 hours to leave outpost as evacuation looms

IDF says it is ready to carry out eviction order once government gives green light, after settlers on West Bank hilltop are served with notices ahead of court-ordered demolition

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

Residents of the West Bank outpost of Amona have been given 48 hours to leave the hilltop community ahead of its court-ordered demolition, according to a military eviction order posted at the site on Tuesday.

The order, which was placed throughout the outpost, said the area would be completely sealed off in two days’ time. The eviction notice was signed on Monday and posted a day later, when the 48-hour deadline went into effect.

Responding to confusion over when the 48 hours was up, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the clock began ticking on Tuesday, and not Monday, setting the evacuation, and a possible showdown with settlers, for Thursday morning. However, the order allows residents to file a new appeal to the IDF for a 48-hour extension, which, if given, would set the evacuation for the morning of the Sabbath, and so would likely only take place on Saturday night or Sunday morning.

“The IDF is ready to evacuate the Amona outpost “in accordance with instructions from the government,” a statement from the military said.

The announcement came ahead of the final February 8 deadline to demolish the outpost, home to some 40 families, which the High Court of Justice in 2014 ruled was illegally constructed on privately owned Palestinian land in 1996.

Shortly after the notices were given, troops began blocking off roads leading to the outpost, in a bid to keep supporters seeking to thwart the eviction order from reaching the hilltop.

Threats of clashes hung heavily over an earlier showdown in December, as supporters of Amona set up makeshift roadblocks and other defenses intended to keep the army from advancing on the outpost, which was the scene of a violent melee during a 2006 partial evacuation.

Amona’s rabbi on Tuesday penned a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him not to demolish the community’s synagogue and ritual bath (mikveh). In the letter carried by the Walla news website, Rabbi Yair Frank said he had received oral assurances from Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz that the synagogue would not be torn down, in compliance with Jewish law, and urged the prime minister and attorney general to keep the building intact.

As for the ritual bath, Frank implored the government to keep it standing until another was built. He wrote that if the community was to move to the adjacent hilltop, in a compromise deal that increasingly looked unlikely to be implemented, the women would need access to the ritual bath until another was constructed.

Young men dancing and singing in the Amona synagogue, Dec. 13, 2016. (Andrew Tobin/JTA)
Young men dancing and singing in the Amona synagogue, Dec. 13, 2016. (Andrew Tobin/JTA)

In a deal struck last month with the government, the outpost residents agreed to move peacefully to an adjacent plot. But the deal was complicated after a Palestinian claimed ownership of the nearby hilltop, prompting the High Court to order a stop to all work on the site.

The lack of a clear solution has once again raised the possibility of a forced evacuation of the Amona settlers and fears that violence could result. The residents of Amona last week renewed their protest against the government and vowed to resist the evacuation after the compromise appeared to fall through.

The eviction order came a day after the state responded to a High Court of Justice petition contesting the use of the adjacent plot for the Amona settlers.

In its Monday night response, the state appealed to the court to clear the site for the settlers, citing security considerations.

The state argued the looming evacuation was considered an “explosive incident with security implications,” adding that there was a “weighty security interest” in making the plot available and averting what could be a violent showdown between the residents and security forces.

The court was expected to rule on the petition on Tuesday.

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) called the eviction order “simply outrageous.”

“The High Court justices are discussing Amona in less than an hour and the preemptive posting [of the orders] are unhelpful — to say the least — for calm,” he wrote on Twitter.

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