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Amona: The brave pioneers, and the upside down world they live in

She reflects on her visit to the hilltop, the people she met, and her preferred alternative to settlement evacuation

As I walked through the small town of Amona, it was like stepping into a scene from Little House on the Prairie. Like pioneer families of old, these people work hard, live simple lives, and treat everyone like they are a member of their family.

Child of Amona caring for the baby while Sarah prepares for Shabbat inside
Beautuful child of Amona caring for the baby, while her mother prepares for Shabbat inside (S. Nuszen)

I visited one family home, where I walked upon a 9-year-old girl caring for a baby. She was there on this beautifully built front porch playing, while her mother was cooking and preparing for Shabbat.

The father, Elad, took great pride in building their home. The windows were built resembling old fashion wood shutters. It would not be hard to imagine Laura Ingalls looking out of them, or envision a freshly baked pie cooling on the shelf.

As newlyweds, Elad and Sarah stumbled upon an opportunity to live out a dream by settling new land in the Judean Hills 18 years ago. The then new outpost neighborhood was mapped out on an empty hilltop above Ofra. It was a time when settlement of the land was heavily encouraged, and outposts were established by young, brave, idealistic, hard working families, willing to pour their hearts and souls into bringing the barren hills to life.

One by one, the caravans were moved onto the empty hill as an outpost of Ofra. The government brought in state water lines, plumbing, electricity, cables, and telephone wires. The Ministry of Education established a kindergarten for the many children of Amona. With the help of the government, they were an up-and-running, fully functional city in no time. That was 20 years ago.

For Elad and Sarah, this was an exciting adventure — an opportunity to be true pioneers and play such an important role in Israel’s future. They were enthusiastic about the idea of being one of the founding families of this new neighborhood, and this is where they would start their family, establish roots, and a place that the generations to follow would call “home.”

The empty shell of Elad and Sarah's unfinished dream house
The empty shell of Elad and Sarah’s unfinished dream house. (S. Nuszen)

Now, next to their home is an unfinished concrete shell of a huge house with majestic picture windows. As Elad took me through the unfinished house, he talked about his dream of watching the sunrise over the Judean Hills and how it had been important to make it a focal point of the living space. He described how, through the year, the sun moves slightly to a different location on the hill. So, there are four giant picturesque windows to make sure he doesn’t miss a single square inch of the sun’s colorful rays as it makes it daily trek.

There were also unwrapped kitchen cabinets ready to install, piles of red Italian roof tiles stacked neatly on the ground.  It was obvious that every cent of the family’s money was invested in this dream home.

So, they were devastated when, in 2006, a demolition order was given for nine of their neighbors’ newly built homes.

Months prior to the destruction of the nine homes in Amona, was the final evacuation and destruction of Gush Katif. Since then, the residents of Amona have been bracing themselves, and trying to make sense of the new upside down world they’re living in. Elad stopped construction on his dreamhouse at that point, and continues to try to wrap his head around what was happening. They were once considered heros, bravely taking to the hilltops, in a dream cultivated by Ariel Sharon. Now they were being treated as enemies, with their own government turning against them, and military and police forces being sent in to evict them and destroying not just houses, but their homes, their businesses, their dreams. The homes of pioneers and brave souls who were blazing for a new future for themselves, and all of Israel.

Elad’s empty dream house is no longer the holder of his and his family’s dreams. Now it stores the work supplies of the family business. Elad is a skilled contractor who specializes in building wood homes. He’s been studying for his degree in architecture for the past few years. In fact, he had to cut our tour of Amona short to take his final exam.

His wife Sarah is a social worker, counselor, art and dance therapist. They both work very hard. But due to the recent upheaval, they’ve both had to take a lot of time off. This current limbo status is torture. Will they be included in the Regulation Law? Will their homes be saved? Will a real solution be offered?

If it sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone, then you can understand the current state of shock and dismay that all of the residents of Amona must be experiencing.

How did this come about?

Even more confusing is the legal situation, and how the demolition order came about to begin with. Organizations like Yesh Din and Peace Now are foreign funded entities, which actively work to undermine and ruin the State of Israel from within. Just the thought of foreign funded entities bringing about lawsuits and wreaking havoc in our judicial system is unheard of. These acts would never be tolerated by any other government. How do they do it? And more importantly, why do we let them?

Busloads of Amona children come home from school
A busload of Amona children comes home from school (S. Nuszen)

Yesh Din and Peace Now activists use this as their strategy: they actively seek out Arabs who have no claim or interest in any land, and convince them that they have a stake in a piece of land that’s currently occupied by Jews. With a little bit of monetary incentive, mixed with a long history of pure hatred, it doesn’t take much to find an Arab willing to allow their name to be used in a legal battle against a Jew. They then file law suits and fund the fight in court on their behalf. In the case of Amona, only one half of an acre is being contested (less than 1% of the entire community). But rather than relocate any homes currently on the tiny disputed portion, the Supreme Court has ordered the evacuation and demolition of 41 homes, and the entire 500 dunam of land (124 acres), and 200 children!

Empty lots of rubble left from 9 homes demolished in 2006
Empty lots of rubble left from nine homes demolished in 2006 (S. Nuszen)

This makes no sense!  And what happens after the land is stripped of all Jewish life? Nothing. The Arab who agreed to be part of the lawsuit has no real interest in this abandoned hilltop. It will remain a pile of rubble, just as the homes demolished 11 years ago still sit today. The Arabs who laid claim to the land, and watched all nine homes demolished in 2006, never set foot onto the land again.

The solution?

There’s a lot of talk in the media and various MKs about a “solution for Amona.”  What they aren’t telling you is that:

1) The size of the land that all 41 homes are supposed to relocate to is half an acre. That’s like trying to squeeze a watermelon into the opening of a wine bottle.

2) The residents are given a document to sign stating that they understand that the solution is only temporary, and that they agree to vacate the land within eight months.

The whole “solution” idea seems to have been a sleight-of-hand card trick meant to distract us from the injustice that is now slapping us in the face. The problem is that much of the public, including right wing communities and their leaders are falling for it.

Where does this leave the residents of Amona? 

Alone, and betrayed by their own people. There is no housing going up to move these families into. There are no more legal battles being fought to save them. The politicians and media speak only about Amona’s demise, and that the destruction cannot be stopped. With this prevailing defeatist attitude, the focus is on how to evacuate, and avoid the violence that happened in 2006.

A real solution?

Why aren’t the right wing leaders standing up for justice and morality for their own people? Why is this destruction the only solution to this problem? What about annexation? Compensation? Nationalization?

Anita Tucker looks out over Amona
Anita Tucker looks out over Amona. (S. Nuszen)

Anita Tucker (representative of Gush Katif Communities) visited Amona and spoke about her parents’ return to Germany after the Holocaust. They tried to get back their land and home, and the government said, “No.” Germans had been living there for many years, since the war. We’re not going to kick them out of their homes!” Instead, they were given compensation.

If a court decided that this half-acre might have been owned (but never lived on) by an Arab who now wants to lay claim to it, why not pay compensation for it? Why is the only answer to rip families out of their homes and tear a community apart?

Elad and Sarah are not the only residents whose home is also their business. Amona is farmland that supports livestock, olive trees, and vineyards. These cannot easily be uprooted or relocated. When you destroy these homes, you are also destroying the ability of these families to survive.

Why?

What is the sensible reason? I’ve yet to hear any rational response to that question. These actions are senseless. Any decent and moral human being who supports justice should find it in them to raise their voice and speak out against this horrific situation. The residents of Amona represent the cream of the crop of Jewish souls. We’re taking our most dedicated and passionate people, and throwing them away like garbage. My heart bleeds for these families, and I pray that good people can come together and help support and fight against this injustice.

Amona residents are asking for donations to help continue their legal fight, and to help them survive through this process that’s left many of them unable to work.

Online donations can be made here.

For USA tax deductible donations, or if you’d like to personally get involved with helping the residents of Amona, please feel free to contact me at: shannonnuszen@gmail.com

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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