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Witness to Amona

Families lost homes, vineyards, and sheep farms, but the greatest loss of all was their trust in a caring government

Evacuation notices were distributed throughout Amona and the IDF closed off access roads. Tuesday morning hundreds of soldiers and police stood in the cold rain, blocking the road with fancy new Humvees. I was allowed to drive up to Amona from Ofra. The road was deserted. There were few non-residents in Amona, unlike a month ago when hundreds of young people that flocked there when the evacuation was first scheduled. Then, the expulsion was postponed as residents and government representatives worked out a deal to transfer half of the homes to an adjacent area. Politicians from Likud and HaBayit Hayehudi including the leaders of both parties promised to help save Amona and nine homes slated for destruction in Ofra. Even some “centrists” questioned the wisdom of destroying Amona. The High Court agreed to wait 45 days. PM Netanyahu said that he needed to wait until Obama had left office and Trump was installed. Residents of Amona felt a sense of hope.

That hope was quickly and harshly crushed when the IDF suddenly announced that the destruction would take place by Tuesday evening, despite an on-going hearing in the High Court. The residents of Amona feel betrayed. The agreements they thought were valid turned out to be meaningless. The eviction of Amona’s 40 families without any alternative housing would be carried out regardless of ongoing appeals in court and with the government.

Nahum and Efat Schwartz have a sheep farm that will be destroyed. A few years ago, their large herd of goats was stolen one night by Arabs from Taibe, a town east of Amona. The Schwartzes also raise berries. Other families have planted vineyards, olive trees and fruit trees. Many built simple hothouses. It will all be destroyed. The IDF estimates that the expulsion and destruction will cost NIS 90 million. Looking out over the rocky hilltop, one wonders: Why? What purpose does this serve? The alienation is deep and bitter.

“Private Palestinian land”? Well, actually, no. Apparently the Arab “owners” never existed, or could not be found.

“Illegal”? Well, although they didn’t get permits from the IDF Civil Administration, Amona has been around for two decades and received government assistance for infrastructure. Roads were built; even a bus stop. Why not allow them to remain? Shouldn’t a Zionist government encourage such settlement activity?

As night falls, a loudspeaker announces evening lectures in the Bet Knesset. A few brave young people arrive soaking wet, ready to share the impending trauma, having slipped around the cordon of soldiers and police. Huddled against the cold, families invite them for hot meals, or whatever they can afford, a sandwich and tea, as they await their uncertain future, a future filled with broken promises.

Early Wednesday morning I arrived in Ofra, but this time, despite my press credentials, I was not permitted to drive up to Amona. I was allowed to walk, however; it took me a half hour. The empty road was lined with shiny new “concertina” (barbed wire). I was stopped by three groups of border police, but finally arrived at about 8:30. About a hundred young people had gathered on the edge of the hill as the IDF and police forces gathered below. They had made their way up through the rocky fields during the night and before dawn.

The roads were strewn with rocks and wood and each caravan improvised some form of resistance, such as closing shutters and nailing doors closed from the inside. By 9:30, the assault began as thousands of IDF border police and police moved slowly up the hill. There was some rock-throwing by kids, but this ended quickly as the forces moved forward. It was sunny, but very windy and cold. By 10:30, the army controlled the entire community and the house-by-house began.

I was embedded with the Schwartz family, and their extended family and friends, about 30 people. Their youngest children were taken to their grandparents in Ofra. Doors and most windows were blocked by plywood, bookcases and closets. We were able to watch from what was happening in the rest of Amona from a distance, but we were also able to see what was happening in real time via YNet, Walla, and other news teams. Throughout the day, we watched the evacuations on the internet, which, for the most part, led by officers, seemed professional. Unlike the assault on Amona in 2006, we did not see cases of raw, wanton brutality. The broadcasts showed determined resistance, with groups of young people sitting on the floor, linking arms, refusing to leave, and dragged out to buses. There was no violence. Some homeowners, like the Nazris, gave short impassioned speeches, recounting their two decades in Amona. We waited, knowing that our little fortress home would be last. By late afternoon, all the windows were boarded up. There was no exit, or entry.

By nightfall, there were no lights in the rest of Amona, and by 2300, the first assault began. The police tried to break in, but were repulsed. An hour later, they returned with heavier forces, smashing through the doorways. Young people sat on the floor, linking arms, resisting, but one by one they were dragged out under the watchful eyes of officers who ordered the soldiers and police not to act violently. They should be commended for their professionalism. Yossi Dagan, head of the Shomron Council, MK Betzalel Smotrich, and representatives from Ofra were there to prevent any police violence. There was a lot of crying and some harsh words, naturally, but by 1:00, the Schwartz’s home was broken and empty. It was over. Amona was no more.

Eventually the families will rebuild their lives and their homes, but the trauma will remain. The most precious thing has been shattered: trust — trust that the government cares about its citizens, trust that their elected representative will stand by their words, trust in local Yesha Council leaders.

Amona’s resistance was not only to save homes and the community, but to oppose a rigged IDF and High Court judicial system. It was to protest against broken promises. It was a resistance not against the “rule of law,” but for the rule of law that has sustained the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael. It is a plea that decisions be made by the elected government by and for the people.

Amona’s resistance is and was a call for a Zionist ethos, for a return to the ideals upon which the State of Israel was founded. It was a call for justice and for real democracy. It is a call that everyone who cares about Israel should hear.

About the Author
Dr. Moshe Dann is a historian, writer, and journalist. He lives in Jerusalem.
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