Amona: on pins and needles as evacuation appears imminent

It was Raizy’s 9th birthday, and her mother had organized a party for her with all her friends. The dancing, smiles, and handfuls of Crembo treats were opposite from what I had expected upon our arrival into Amona on this icy cold Wednesday night.

Just a few hours earlier the government came to discuss their proposal to the 42 families whose homes were slated for immediate destruction.  It was a sign of hope for many.  Everybody was under the impression that all the negotiations to date, and the resident’s steadfast resistance of the evacuation had made an impression on the government leaders.  After the recent meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Naftali Bennet, there were rumors of a real agreement, with terms both sides would be happy with.   Those visiting at the time stayed around, hoping to be the first to hear good news and take part in the communal sigh of relief.  As my husband and I passed around candy for the children, a woman shouted to us “Save the rest for later, when we will have something to celebrate!”

At 3PM, however, the residents of Amona were seen exiting the meeting hall as if every ounce of strength and hope had been sucked out of them.  Although none of them had the energy to discuss what went on in this meeting, the devastation in their eyes said everything.  Of the many friends, supporters, and news agencies in the community, each family asked to be left alone to process and spend quiet time in their home.

Elad and Sarah giving an interview outside their home.
Elad and Sarah giving an interview outside their home.

The thousands of dedicated individuals from near and far, waited on pins and needles for the desperate call via SMS and social media to make their way to Amona. Nothing was more important to them than to be there with these families, sharing their pain, lifting them up, and standing together in protest of the now inevitable destruction that was to come.

Seminary girls arrive to say Tehillim for the residents hearing the government proposal Wednesday afternoon.

To the masses in waiting, the silence from Amona during the next hours was deafening.  Another meeting was called for 7PM. Questions about the meeting were answered only with heads turned down and a losing battle to hold back the tears.  It was then that small groups be
gan to call for the reciting of Tehillim.  Knowing the families were struggling with such intense decisions, and obviously hurting, some began making their way to Amona to recite Tehillim outside the meeting hall, and physically show their support.

Repairs were made to the greenhouse shelters made for thousands of incoming supporters
Repairs were made to the greenhouse shelters made for thousands of incoming supporters

I arrived just prior to the 7PM second round of meetings.  When I made my way through the crowd of sticky gooey fingers, and high pitched screaming, I met Sarah. She was still managing to crack a very sweet smile, but I could feel the pain in her eyes.  She was trying hold herself together, and this birthday party was her last ditch effort at maintaining the feeling of normalcy for her children.  As 7:00 rolled around, Sarah’s tears were impossible to hold back.  She told me they had to have a discussion with their children about what was to happen, and the arrangements that were made to get the youngest children out of Amona for the traumatic events to follow.  9 yr old Raizy, who was on cloud 9 just moments before, was now a pile of tears clinging to her mother’s skirt.  Just as Elad and Sarah were walking out the door, Sarah looked on the kitchen counter and began crying again.  “The cake!”.  With all the upheaval, meetings, and discussions throughout the day she had barely made the cake in time for Raizy’s party, and then forgot to serve it!

While the residents were in the last meeting, we were informed that the government had given an ultimatum “Accept the deal by 10PM, or the roads are closed immediately and evacuation begins tomorrow”.  As soon as that message went out, thousands of supporters began to arrive in Amona, despite the ice-cold rain and high winds.  Those that took public buses were bundled up and hitchhiking their way up the hill from the entrance of Ofra.  I decided to start driving my 8-seater van up and down the hill taking as many passengers as we could squeeze in.  I was impressed that during some rounds, we managed to fit up to 16 people!  Unloading was like watching a clown car, and people laughed as every door opened and young yeshiva boys fell off of laps, climbed over seats, and rolled out of the trunk.  I drove for 6 hours up and down the hill, losing count of how many trips, but every one was full.

The 10PM deadline when the roads were promised to be shut down had come and gone.  Elad and Sarah were still in discussions with the rest of the residents until 1AM.  When Elad and Sarah returned home, they informed everybody that the residents had voted “No” to the proposal.  As for the details of the proposal, they were outraged by the government’s lack of commitment to follow through with anything laid out in the proposal.

  • Of the 500 dunam of land Amona currently sits on, the new location would be  6 dunam.
  • Out of 42 families living in Amona, only 11 of them would be allowed to move to the new location.
  • The 11 families would be limited to a 1 yr lease on the land, and would likely need to vacate at the end of the 1 yr.
  • The 11 families that would move to the new location were promised caravans would be provided, but the date of their arrival, if ever, was unknown.
  • As for the rest of the residents of Amona, there were only “maybe” answers and talks of the possibility of future legislation that would allow expansion.
  • No additional building would be allowed, even of temporary materials.
  • The Supreme Court could cancel this agreement at any time.
  • Farmers could not build a pen or move their livestock to the location. Those who owned olive trees or vineyards could not make any attempt to move them, or to plant any new vegetation.

Elad and Sarah’s 16 yr old daughter, Ayana, had never commented on the issue to her parents.  But, when they returned to announce that they had rejected the proposal, she hugged them both and told them how proud she was of them.

It was a restless night, and Sarah cried continuously.  But when she woke in the morning, expecting the evacuation at any moment, she says she felt a tremendous burden lifted.  She said it took a good shower to cleanse herself of the filthy thoughts and discussions that took place the night before.  She explained that at the time the proposal was given, they had been emotionally beaten down to the point where she felt the residents of Amona were prepared to take any deal that was offered to them.  Doing so would have left them feeling manipulated, and as if they had sold out.  In the end she said, the offer they gave us was so ridiculous that our path was clear.  It was as if we had reached a fork in the road, and Hashem was testing everything I stood for.  The impossible terms of the proposal was actually a blessing, because it enabled us to stand as proud Jews, dedicated to the morals and principles that the Torah outlines for us.  If something better had been offered, or if the government actually had a plan they could commit to and follow through with, the outcome may have been different.

Many of us can beat our chest and profess what we would do or say under such extreme tests, but when we’re put to the fire, none of us really knows what we would do.

“I have great pride in my neighbors here in Amona.” Sarah said.  “It’s an honor to live among them, and it gives me great strength and confidence to know that when our faith was tested, we stood tall against those who wish to destroy the land of Israel.”

Israeli youth climb the Amona water tower to post protest signs and flags of Israel.
About the Author
Shannon Nuszen is an activist for Jewish causes, both in Israel and in the diapora. Shannon spent years advocating Jewish causes and countering anti-Israel propaganda in Houston, TX. In 2015, Shannon and her family made aliyah to Israel and live in Gush Etzion. Since their arrival in Israel, she's been busy educating herself about Israeli politics, and has become involved in various political causes.
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