“Amona is at a decisive juncture,” wrote the residents of the beleaguered town in Israel’s Benjamin region. “In another three weeks, the state will be giving its answer to the court regarding the evacuation of the entire town. If there is no dramatic change in the state’s position, the end of the town is near.”
To understand what is happening in Amona, here’s some historical background:
In 1867, approximately 15 years before the First Aliyah to Israel, the famous American author Mark Twain came to the Holy Land. This is how he describes what he saw in his book about his travels, The Innocents Abroad:
“Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given wholly to weeds – a silent, mournful expanse … A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. The further we went the hotter the sun got and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became… There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. I would not desire to live here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land.”
Fewer than 100,000 people lived in the land of Israel at the time; approximately one third of them were Jews. The land was desolate and abandoned for over 1,000 years. For example, 200 years before Twain a geographer named Hadriani Relandi comes to the land of Israel and finds a few tens of Jews in Gaza, a number of Christians and one Arab family.
On November 2, 1917 Lord Balfour declares that Britain would support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish nation in the land of Israel. The declaration refers to the land of Israel on both sides of the Jordan River. On the basis of that declaration, Britain receives a mandate over the land of Israel from the League of Nations. In 1922 Winston Churchill publishes the first White Paper and, contradicting the mandate of the League of Nations, gives the East Bank of the Jordan to the Arabs.
In 1948 Jordan’s King Abdullah invades the West Bank of the Jordan and in defiance of international law, conquers Judea and Samaria. Fourteen years later, in the early ‘60s, his grandson, King Hussein, decides to register the territory in Judea and Samaria under the names of the region’s Arabs. Most of those residents came to the region on the heels of the Zionist awakening and lived there for just a short period of time. But the Jordanian king wanted to divide the spoils and to earn legitimacy for his ownership of the territory – and the income from its taxes.
Until the liberation of Judea and Samaria in the 1967 Six-Day War, the Jordanian king had fictitiously registered most of the land in the Benjamin region. It is easy to differentiate between authentic Arab ownership of land in Judea and Samaria, which is registered in the Turkish-era registry, and the registration that took place after the Jordanian conquest. For some reason, the state of Israel decided to ignore the authentic deed. It has chosen to ignore the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations’ decision that earmarked the territory for the Jews and to recognize the foreign Jordanian conquest and the way it allocated the spoils of the land of the Jews. This has created the situation in which Amona, like many other towns in the Benjamin region, is sitting on “private” land.
The legal authorities in Israel have all the legal tools necessary to completely reject the petitions against the residents of Amona. (This rejection would comply with international law, as well.) Even if there was a sliver of claim on the land on which the Jewish towns are built, the problem could easily be solved with monetary compensation, the accepted practice in situations like this on the other side of the Green Line.
It is clear, though, that this is not a legal issue. The problem is not the Arabs or world opinion. The entire problem is here, in am Yisrael. The initiation of these petitions and their advancement is implemented by Israel’s legal authority. The land of the Bible, promised by the Creator to our forefathers, is an impossible burden for those who wish to purge themselves of their Jewish identity.
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