Palestinians await Israeli outpost's evacuation


Palestinians await Israeli outpost's evacuation
  1. Palestinians await Israeli outpost's evacuation
    www.brandonsun.com
    SILWAD, Palestinian Territory - Maryam Abdel-Kareem gazed longingly onto the plot of West Bank land she inherited from her father. Once planted with tomatoes, cucumbers and okra, the wind-swept hilltop now hosts the white trailer homes of an Israeli settlement outpost that took root more than…
    Lifestyle

SILWAD, Palestinian Territory - Maryam Abdel-Kareem gazed longingly onto the plot of West Bank land she inherited from her father. Once planted with tomatoes, cucumbers and okra, the wind-swept hilltop now hosts the white trailer homes of an Israeli settlement outpost that took root more than 20 years ago.

Now, Abdel-Kareem and other Palestinian landowners are set to reclaim the property they watched stripped from them, hoping to finally put to rest a bitter, years-long legal saga on Feb. 8 — the latest court-ordered deadline for the evacuation of the Amona outpost.

"I've never lost hope," said Abdel-Kareem, 82, peering out across a rocky valley toward Amona. "It's as if you have this child and you hug him and love him, and you don't want to let him go. The land is like this to me, more precious than a child."

Amona is one of about 100 outposts across the West Bank that Israel considers illegal but tolerates and often allows to flourish. It was established in the mid-1990s, when a small group of settlers, quietly beckoned by government-funded infrastructure, erected caravans on the rugged knoll.

Amona now houses a synagogue, a basketball court and about 300 residents. It became a symbol of settler defiance when Israel demolished nine of its structures in 2006, sparking violent clashes between settlers and Israeli security forces.

In 2008, the Palestinian landowners, represented by lawyers from the Israeli legal rights group Yesh Din, petitioned the Supreme Court to have the outpost removed, setting off a yearslong struggle.

The state agreed to peacefully demolish the outpost by the end of 2012 but the move was repeatedly delayed. What seemed like a final ruling in 2014, declaring the land private Palestinian property, gave Israel until Dec. 25, 2016, to carry out the evacuation. But under fierce pressure from settlers and their supporters in parliament, the government secured a 45-day extension until early February. There is still no alternate housing solution for the 40 families living in Amona.

The landowners watched with frustration as their lands were taken. Yesh Din says reports about land theft filed with Israeli police in the late 1990s went unaddressed and Palestinian attempts to draw awareness to the issue were thwarted. In a 1998 letter provided by Yesh Din, Israeli authorities warned Palestinians against holding Friday prayers in Amona, saying it would constitute an "illegal activity" that could spark "a confrontation with residents."

The outpost has dominated headlines in Israel and the settlers' fate has posed a serious risk to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, after the pro-settler Jewish Home party threatened to walk out over it.

The landowners are perplexed by a proposed solution to move the settlers to a northern perch on the same hilltop, an offer that is likely to face legal hurdles. Yesh Din said that keeping the Amona residents on the same hilltop could block Palestinian access to their land.

"It's hard for them. They went through a lot of highs and lows," said Gilad Grossman, a spokesman for Yesh Din. "They won every legal battle. They did everything by the book and ... every time there is another attempt to outsmart them."

In addition to the unauthorized outposts, there are some 120 Jewish settlements Israel considers legal. Both settlements and outposts are opposed by the international community as well as the Palestinians.

Last month, the settlements were at the centre of a showdown between Israel and its closest ally, the U.S., at the U.N. Security Council, where the Obama administration allowed a resolution to pass that challenged the legality of the settlements. The episode marked a low point in the frosty ties between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu.

U.S. officials said that after previously vetoing anti-Israel resolutions, they felt compelled to abstain because of continued Israeli settlement construction and a recent effort to retroactively legalize d…

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