Minister attends inauguration ceremony for Havat Amona illegal outpost

Organizers hold ceremony on adjacent hilltop so that Miri Regev won’t violate closed military zone order, which IDF hasn’t enforced against settlers

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

(From L-R) Chaim Silberstein, Raphael Ish-Ran, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz and Avichai Boaron attend a ceremony marking the alleged purchase of land where the Amona outpost once stood on December 23, 2018. (Eli Sabati)
(From L-R) Chaim Silberstein, Raphael Ish-Ran, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz and Avichai Boaron attend a ceremony marking the alleged purchase of land where the Amona outpost once stood on December 23, 2018. (Eli Sabati)

Culture Minister Miri Regev called on legal officials to authorize the return of Israeli settlers to the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood.

Speaking to reporters Sunday following an unveiling ceremony at “Havat Amona,” or Amona Farm, which settlers claim is being built on land legally purchased from the original Palestinian landowners, Regev said she did “not understand why people who bought land for agricultural purposes are having their property rights blocked.”

“I ask the attorney general and the justice minister: Why we are dragging our feet on this?” Regev added.

Settlers installed two mobile homes earlier this month on the hilltop where the community had stood before it was razed by the state in February 2017. The effort was facilitated by Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz; Avichai Boaron, the former head of the campaign to save the Amona outpost; and Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich.

The High Court of Justice approved the demolition of Amona after concluding it had been built on private Palestinian land.

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

The installation of the mobile homes came amid a spate of attacks targeting Israeli soldiers and civilians throughout the West Bank. Gantz said the move was the fulfillment of his promise to establish a new community in response to terrorism.

Also on site for Sunday’s ceremony were the parents of Shira and Amichai Ish-Ran, a couple who were wounded along with five others when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire at a bus stop outside the central West Bank’s Ofra settlement on December 9. The couple’s baby was delivered prematurely in an emergency procedure after the attack, but died three days later.

Havat Amona is being built in memory of the baby — posthumously named Amiad Yisrael Ish-Ran — as well as IDF soldiers Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef and Sgt. Yosef Cohen, who were killed in a separate shooting outside the nearby Givat Assaf outpost four days later.

The ceremony took place just below the hilltop where the mobile homes are located, so that Culture Minister Miri Regev would not violate the closed military zone order that the IDF placed on the outpost following its demolition nearly two years ago.

Sgt. Yosef Cohen, left, and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef of the IDF’s Kfir Brigade. (Israel Defense Forces)

The order has been used to prevent the original Palestinian landowners from accessing the land that the demolition was designed to clear, but the military has yet to enforce it against the settlers who have been illegally squatting on the hilltop for nearly ten days.

While they claim to have legally purchased 40 dunam (10 acres) and have submitted the documents to the Defense Ministry for authorization, they did not coordinate the caravan installation with the necessary state bodies and they lack the permits required to make such a move.

The IDF did not respond to a Times of Israel request for an explanation as to why the caravans and settlers have been allowed to remain at the site despite the closed military zone order.

Last week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit criticized Gantz, Boaron and Smotrich for facilitating the mobile home installation.

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

“Violating the law under the protection of public figures, by placing illegal caravans on private-registered land, cannot be a source of pride,” Mandelblit said in an address at the Globes Conference.

Smotrich responded in a statement, saying that Mandelblit “doesn’t know the facts” and that the land was purchased legally.

Boaron has declined requests for a copy of the transaction as well as information on the identity of the Palestinian landowners, asserting that conveying that information would place them in danger.

During the nearly ten years of legal battles to save the outpost, the residents had submitted documents they claimed proved that they had legally purchased the land, but they were later determined to have been falsified.

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 those for plots on which illegal homes were built in Amona, Migron, Beit El and Givat Assaf. The case is still ongoing, but a gag has been placed on the identities of the two suspects.

(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. (Campaign to save Amona)

Boaron on Sunday acknowledged that Amona had been established in 1995 on private Palestinian land, but he argued that the original landowners had been living abroad and had left the property vacant for long enough to allow the settlers to take over.

“We were children then and the grownups told us that everything would be fine,” he said, claiming that state authorities had led them to believe that they would not be removed from the site for illegally squatting.

According to a Defense Ministry official, the Amona hilltop belongs to over a dozen Palestinians and it will likely take time to determine the owner or owners of the 40 dunams that were allegedly purchased.

Since last March, Boaron, along with dozens of other families, have been living in Amichai, the first newly constructed West Bank settlement in over 25 years, which was built for the Amona evacuees. The community is located just east of the Shiloh settlement in the central West Bank.

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