Residents gone, dismantling of Amona outpost begins
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Residents gone, dismantling of Amona outpost begins

Defense Ministry trucks roll into illegal settlement days after residents evacuated; state expects to conclude operation by week’s end

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Ministry trucks loaded with trailer homes made their way down the hilltop from the evacuated Amona outpost in the central West Bank on Monday morning, as the dismantling of the illegal settlement began.

Last week, the residents of the outpost were evacuated from those homes, when security forces carried out a 2014 High Court of Justice ruling that said part of the land the community had been built on was owned by Palestinians.

The Defense Ministry began by taking down the outpost’s water and electric infrastructure, as well as loading the smaller of the homes onto trucks, a ministry official said.

“Whatever we can load onto a truck, we’re picking up and taking,” the official said. “Whatever we can’t pick up will be taken apart.”

Defense Ministry dismantling Amona outpost in the central West Bank on February 6, 2017. (Courtesy/Amona council)
Defense Ministry dismantling Amona outpost in the central West Bank on February 6, 2017. (Courtesy/Amona council)

The hilltop is expected to be cleared by the end of the week, the official said.

Aerial photographs of the dismantling operation, provided by former residents of Amona, showed trailers being loaded onto trucks and bulldozers clearing debris.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, thousands of police officers streamed to the hilltop outpost in order to clear out the 42 families and hundreds of protesters who had barricaded themselves inside the homes and a synagogue there.

The eviction process was arduous and at times violent, as the demonstrators sealed the entrances to buildings and chained themselves up inside. Protesters also clashed with police as they made their way into the settlement and again during the evacuation of the synagogue.

Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces at the Amona outpost, northeast of Ramallah, on February 1, 2017, ahead of its evacuation. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces at the Amona outpost, northeast of Ramallah, on February 1, 2017, ahead of its evacuation. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

In total, some 60 people, mostly police, were injured on Wednesday and Thursday. One police officer had a corrosive liquid thrown in his face, causing burns. Another suffered a dislocated shoulder. One female officer’s leg was broken, police said.

The evacuated residents of the Amona outpost have been set up temporarily in the Ofra settlement next door.

Most of the families slept in the guesthouse rooms usually used by youth groups and school programs visiting the settlement for the weekend, and most were expected to stay for at least the coming weeks.

Former resident of the Amona outpost Avraham Rossana holding his 3-month-old baby in the Ofra Seminary campus, February 2, 2017. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)
Former resident of the Amona outpost Avraham Rossana holding his 3-month-old baby in the Ofra Seminary campus, February 2, 2017. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

According to site manager Amichai Rubin, the approximately 300 people would be able to stay “as long as they needed with no limit whatsoever,” with the help of the Binyamin Regional Council, which was paying for the accommodation and food.

After the court ruled the outpost had to be demolished by December 25, the government attempted to avert a violent evacuation with a deal that would see many of the residents set up on an adjacent plot of land on the hilltop. But on Wednesday, that agreement was overturned by the High Court of Justice, as the left-wing Yesh Din legal aid group showed that the proposed plot of land was also privately owned by Palestinians.

A spokesperson for Yesh Din said he was not sure when or if the Palestinian owners would gain access to the land.

Mariam Hammad, 83, a resident of Silwad who owns land that was taken by Israelis to build the outpost of Amona, November 2016 (Dov Lieber / Times of Israel)
Mariam Hammad, 83, a resident of Silwad who owns land that was taken by Israelis to build the outpost of Amona, November 2016 (Dov Lieber / Times of Israel)

“First we have to wait for the evacuation. Then we’ll have to see what the army does, if the army will declare it a closed military zone or not,” the spokesperson said.

“Until they clear the houses and things, we’re just sitting and waiting,” he said.

Earlier last week, ahead of the evacuation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that 3,000 new housing units were approved to be built in West Bank settlements.

And on Wednesday night, Netanyahu said that he had ordered the creation of a new settlement to replace Amona. It would be the first official new Israeli community in the West Bank in some 25 years.

Evicted Amona residents said they would accept Netanyahu’s offer, but some were reluctant to believe the prime minister would come through on his pledge.

“He’s made up promises before and he hasn’t been able to deliver,” Tamar Nizri, a veteran Amona resident, told The Times of Israel.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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