The community of Amona in the title has been the subject of much controversy over the past couple of years, reaching a head in the last couple of months.
The background to the story is a familiar one in the Israeli domestic landscape. (One caveat – I am writing from memory because I’m having a problem finding links in English. If I have facts wrong, please correct me in the comments and I will edit the post accordingly).
A small settlement, consisting of only about 40 families, was established with government permission or at least without official rejection. The land was purchased by the Jewish settlers (there, I said the bogey-word!) and all was quiet for 20 years (!) until an Arab “owner” was found by Israeli leftists who can’t bear the idea of Jews returning to their ancestral homes. This ostensible Arab owner suddenly “remembered” that part of the land is his and laid a claim to it.
The case went to court, which is where it has been bouncing around ever since. Israel’s hyperactivist High Court ruled in favour of the Arab (of course – it is very rare for the High Court to ever rule in the Jews’ favour). The Israeli government was duly horrified and has tried various tricks of the political trade to try and mitigate the High Court’s ruling.
These tricks have included legislation to retroactively legalize all settlement outposts, (which Sweden expressed deep concern over, as if they have nothing better to be concerned about in their refugee-infused crime-infested cities), setting up a “Cyprus commission” to examine competing land claims in a manner similar to the commission set up in Cyprus to arbitrate between Greek and Turkish claims, and assorted other delaying tactics.
The High Court ordered that compensation be paid to the Arab owner, in which case there is no reason to destroy the community.
Nevertheless it now looks like Amona is going to be destroyed because after all, you cannot have actual Jews living on Jewish land in the Jewish State can you? The world would never be the same!
Adding insult to injury, when the government came up with a plan to move the Amona houses a few hundred yards up the road, the US State Department objected to that too! There is no pleasing those Jew-hating politicians.
Meanwhile, the demolition of an illegal Bedouin village in southern Israel has been delayed (via Reality) because of the objections of human rights activists. I wonder if those activists will turn up at Amona on demolition day. Or do human rights only apply to Arabs, and not to Jews?
For more reading on this very painful subject (which I admit I have been avoiding precisely because the outrage at the injustice of the decisions so upsets me), here are some illuminating articles:
Here are eight crucial things you need to know about Amona: (via MP):
1. Jordan had no right to parcel out lands
When the Amona case first reached the Supreme Court, a representative of the land registrar for the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) argued that despite the fact that the location was a bald and abandoned mountaintop, there existed documented parcels of land which had been registered by the Jordanian government as belonging to area sheiks and clans. However, as an invading and occupying power, Jordan had no right to award these lands. Jordan’s rule over the “West Bank” was not recognized by the vast majority of UN member states save for the UK and Pakistan, and so this local Arab “ownership” is based on a lie.
2. Only 0.5% of the Amona land is registered to private Arab owners
… in Jerusalem Magistrate Court it was discovered that out of the nine Arab petitioners, seven own land that is entirely outside the Amona perimeter, and have had no problem working their land had they been so inclined. The remaining two owned only a sliver – about half an acre altogether, out of the 125 acres of the Amona territory – less than .5%. The remaining land is registered to names of non-existent people who do not appear in the 1967 census.
3. COGAT didn’t differentiate between the parcels with known and unknown ownership
Despite the above facts, the COGAT prosecution related to the parcels whose owners are unknown as being privately owned, declaring that some 15 acres in the southern part of the settlement belonged to real private owners. They then told the court that, in fact, there was no difference between the various parts of the community and that the half-acre that became 15 acres was, in effect, indistinguishable from the rest, and the entire community had to come down.
4. The Settlement Arrangements Act does not violate international law
Regarding the Settlement Arrangements Act, which the left, as well as senior Netanyahu cabinet officials, are saying violates international law, former Tel Aviv University president and international law expert Prof. Yoram Dinstein has argued that “when an occupier appropriates the power to legislate in an occupied territory, said power belongs to the occupying state and not to one of its organs (COGAT).” […]
5. International law compels Israel to care for the rights of Jewish and Arab resident
Another popular argument against the Settlement Arrangements Act is that it violates international law because it sanctions the impounding of Arab owned land for the sake of a Jewish community. However, it has been noted that international law compels the occupier to care for the needs of all the civilians under its rule, Jews and Arabs alike, and the right of a government to expropriate private property for public use, with proper payment of compensation (eminent domain) is inherent in exerting such care.
6. The Settlement Arrangements Act is consistent with the pre-67 law in Judea and Samaria
… the Settlement Arrangements Act is consistent with the legal systems that were in use in Judea and Samaria before 1967. Both Ottoman law and Jordanian law determine that in a case where a man built and planted in good faith land belonging to another, should the value of the construction exceed the value of the land, the land owner is compelled to receive compensation.
7. Israel legislates retroactively when needed
Another argument against the Settlement Arrangements Act is that it retroactively alters a court ruling. But the state of Israel regularly legislates retroactively, as in the amendment that reversed many hundreds of court sentences of Arab terrorists, to facilitate the Gilad Shalit deal with Hamas.
8. The Settlement Arrangements Act is not unconstitutional
Finally, the most crucial argument against the Settlement Arrangements Act is that it is unconstitutional – the constitution in this case being Israel’s Basic Laws. Setting aside the paradox whereby one Knesset law is inapplicable in the territories while the same Knesset’s basic laws are applicable – does Israel’s basic law really dictate that 40 families with their 200 children who have lived in Amona for 20 years be evicted to satisfy the alleged rights of two claimants who own less than .5% of the land and have never lived there? Has the court become so immoral as to be the enemy of its constituents without any foundation?
Caroline Glick, always a very worthwhile read, writes about Amona and the rule of law: She succinctly summarizes the issue and points out the naked bias in the court’s ruling: (emphases are added):
Yehuda Yifrach reported Friday in Makor Rishon that once the suit was filed, the Jerusalem District Court acted to ascertain the actual scope of the ownership rights under question. It was determined that a mere half-acre of Amona was built on lands to which the Palestinians made claim. The rest of their claims pertained to land outside of the community altogether.
In other words, once the actual claims of ownership were examined it worked out that a mere fraction of the community was built on privately owned land. It further worked out that the precise areas that were owned by claimants are non-contiguous and indiscernible, but all were generally located on smidgens of plots on the southern side of the community.
Others have disputed Yifrach’s findings. But that is part of the problem of ascertaining the validity of ownership claims.
At any rate, as Yifrach noted, rather than say that the owners would be compensated for the half acre, whose specific locations were unclear, the Attorney General’s office decided that all the plots that included privately owned land had to be destroyed. Thus the Attorney General’s lawyers magically transformed a half acre into 15 acres, covering the entire southern part of Amona.
The government then decided it would raze only the homes located on those 15 acres and move the families to new homes in Amona on undisputed plots in the northern half of the community.
The Supreme Court would have none of that, however.
The justices insisted that their initial decision that all 60 acres be razed to the ground still stands.
Glick next addresses the Arrangements Law, which was intended to legalize or regulate “illegal” outposts:
Given the specious nature of Mandelblit’s legal reasoning, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that in writing his opinion he was not acting as a lawyer, but as a political activist. Mandelbilt’s purpose was not to protect the rule of law – which his opinion ignores and distorts. Rather his goal was to protect the rule of lawyers who use their positions as officers of the court to advance their political agenda.
Faced with the specter of Mandelblit’s legally unsupported “legal” opinion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first tried to get the court to delay the deadline for destroying Amona for several months.
Unsurprisingly, the court, which is fighting not for justice but to prove that it is more powerful than the government, rejected his request.
Caroline Glick’s conclusion is one that we should all pay attnetion to – but unfortunately I am pretty sure our government won’t and certainly our judicial system will studiously ignore:
The timing of this showdown between the rule of law and the rule of lawyers couldn’t be worse. It comes in the twilight of the Obama administration which has shown consistently that the actual legal basis for Israel’s actions in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem is irrelevant.
President Barack Obama and his advisers condemn every action Israel takes because they oppose Israel’s presence in the areas for ideological reasons that have nothing to do with law.
Unfortunately, we can’t always pick the timing of our great battles.
Mandelblit and his comrades have left our lawmakers no choice. They must pass the Arrangements Law, and override Mandelblit. This is the only way to ensure the Knesset’s position as Israel’s lawmaking body is respected.
This is the only way to secure Israel’s position as a nation governed by the rule of law, rather than the rule of unelected, unaccountable lawyers.
It is as much the empowering of our enemies (including our enemies within) as the judicial outrage which infuriates me. “צדק צדק תרדוף”, “Justice, Justice shall you pursue” we are enjoined by the Torah. But the Torah did not mean that we should pursue justice right out of our system.
Justice should be meted out to Israeli Jews as well as to Palestinians. Someone should remind our holier-than-thou activist courts of this point.