The Amona Trainwreck

My first visit to Amona was on Israel’s Independence Day almost twenty years ago. My wife’s cousin was there after her stint in National Service and it was a good opportunity for us to get out and see a new place (and have a barbeque).  Then Amona was all of a couple of caravans , a water tower and a  guard tower on a bare rocky hill overlooking Ofra. I asked, Y, if she was bothered by the fact that the hill where Amona was located was not registered as State Land.  She replied that the land had been granted to the village of Silwad by King Hussein of Jordan in the late 1960’s, but had never been cultivated nor really used and that a “solution” was being found. From then I have been left with the fear and apprehension for the future of Amona. Apprehension of the coming trainwreck.

The Amona train is set to hit an impassable barrier. A wall so massive and immovable (though perhaps cooked and cracked), that it is hard to see what, if anything will survive the collision. That wall is the High Court, Israel’s equivalent to the Supreme Court in the United States. Some use the full name, the High Court of Justice (HCJ), although in this case that could be a misnomer. There is little justice in destroying Amona.

Looking back, any number of steps might have made the coming collision avoidable. Amona was created, first and foremost , to protect Ofra from being sniped upon from the commanding hill. Had the regional council sufficed with a few caravans and no permanent houses, perhaps the outpost would have remained “under the radar” and there would never have been a petition to the HCJ in 2005 to remove the houses built without permits there (the nine Amana houses that were destroyed in the 2006 Amona clash). Perhaps, had the Civil Administration perceived their function to be an unbiased arbitrator of justice for both Jews and Arabs in Judea and Samaria , and not as the protectors of the Arabs only. And of course, the HCJ could have chosen to not to rule on the matter, or to rule in a more limited fashion.

Yet even if I believe that the HCJ has overstepped its authority, (and see Evelyn Gordon’s critique in Mosaic) even if I believe that the order to remove Amona is the opposite of justice (and see here  and here, of similar cases concerning Bedouin where the HCJ ruled differently), I can’t imagine the government flagrantly ignoring a ruling from the HCJ. Disobeying a ruling of the HCJ would be harmful to the rule of law and would detract from what should be the main effort: reforming the HCJ.

And that, in my opinion, is why neither Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Defence Avigdor Liberman nor Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit are willing to even attempt to prevent Amona’s destruction if that means defying a HCJ ruling. Not the fear of any last minute step by the Obama administration, not the International Criminal Court (ICC) and not any part of the UN. What prevents them from saving Amona is their respect of HCJ and what it stands for.

So yes, the HCJ has, in my opinion, been hijacked by a group of justices with an anti-democratic, activist agenda and certainly the current non-democratic system of vetting jurists as prospective candidates to become future justices needs to be changed, but on the whole the HCJ is a necessary part of the Israeli democracy and deserves to be respected. That stone wall is also a buttress that supports the structure of the State.

That is why I am praying that the residents of Amona will accept the compromise proposed by the government to relocate to a small site north of the present community. I realize that the compromise is painful, inadequate and that the proposed move will be traumatic. I realize that there are infants just born whose homes will be destroyed and their families uprooted yet I see no real alternative. Don’t drive the Amona train into a stone wall. It is still possible to to save the passengers if not the train.

It is Winter and the days are short. A heavy cloud sits over you all and those who care for you. Yet the days will soon begin to grow longer and Spring will come with it. I know that it is easier to predict snow in February then to plant seeds of hope that the Spring will bring a change in government policy that will be friendlier to the Jewish residents of Yehuda and Shomron. The government, in its various combinations (including the Attorney-General) is the one that can do the most in your best interests and, painful as it is, to accept their offer.

The alternative is a trainwreck.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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