Before the Oslo “peace” accords, there were no hilltop outposts. When a group of Jews wanted to start a new town in Judea and Samaria, on empty government land, they did so, and the town immediately received governmental recognition.
After Oslo, in order not to raise the ire of the Western powers, Israel stopped building new towns in Judea and Samaria but continued expanding old ones. Threats from such initiatives as Oslo, Wye, Annapolis, Camp David Two, etc, etc., led to the creation of “outposts,” new towns built from scratch outside the boundaries of the established towns of Judea and Samaria. The thinking was this: If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.
Amona is one of many such hilltop communities in the Binyamin District of Samaria, built on empty government land and later adopted as neighborhoods by larger, established, sympathetic, nearby communities. When my own son moved to Esh Kodesh, outside of Shilo, his trailer home was sixteenth in the community. Today, six years later, there are many private homes, and the number of families has risen above 50. The Jewish People want to live in biblical Eretz Yisrael. In 1992, when Oslo struck, there were under 200,000 Jews in Judea and Samaria. Now the number is approaching half a million. No other part of Israel is growing so fast.
On the first and second of February, 2017, the residents of 40 caravans in the Amona neighborhood of Ofra, 20 minutes north of Jerusalem, were physically evacuated by Israeli police officers. Following the Gush Katif evacuation of 2004, there were a number of such evacuations, including the first Amona evacuation (2006), Migron (2012), the Ulpena neighborhood in Beit El (2012), and the Dreinoff apartment buildings, also in Beit El (2015). It was estimated, before the passing of the Arrangements Law, recently, that there were 4,000 residents of Judea and Samaria whose homes were in danger of being evacuated. In the past, when such events threatened, the Israeli news media tended to write about them at length, without explaining all that much. I would like to answer three questions people ask about such evacuations.
- Why are these people being evacuated?
- Are there pertinent facts that are being ignored?
- What is the new Arrangements Law, and can it help?
Let me preface by saying that, while left-wing and right-wing journalists start with the same facts, they emphasize different things. I imagine you are finding this to be the case right now with the coverage of Donald Trump’s presidency. Well, it’s true here in Israel as well.
Why was Amona evacuated? Left-wing commentators will say: “It was sitting on private Arab land, and the Arab owners sued in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, so as not to award thieves, ordered it evacuated.”
But that is not the whole story. The right-wing commentators explain a lot more.
First, at least in the present case of Amona, the precise area over which the Arabs claimed ownership was only a small fraction of the area where the 40 homes were located.
Second, The Arabs making the claims may be lying – we’ve seen that many times before, as in the Beit HaShalom case in Hebron, which went through the courts for 10 years until justice was served. “But,” you ask, "if the Supreme Court ordered the homes evacuated, doesn’t that mean that they have already examined the case and come to the mature conclusion that the Arabs were right?”
Actually, no. As has been written a number of times by right-wing commentators, there is a hole in the system here, which lawyers take advantage of. When Arabs bring land claims to the Supreme Court, the Court does not examine the case. It assumes that that has already happened, and it sides with those bringing the suit.
Yet, even when the Arabs are not lying about their owning the land, their claim to ownership is very weak. Such claims go back to a time when the deceased King Hussein of Jordan was giving out plots of the Land of Israel to Arabs wholesale, as a way to force them to pay taxes on it. Thus, the Arabs never took the gifts seriously, never went to the spots where they had been given land, never cultivated it or lived on it, and never even told their children or grandchildren that it had been given to them. In short, they viewed the whole thing as a nuisance and a trick move by King Hussein to get their money. The Jews of Amona found no signs of previous life in the soil of the land they inhabited nor any archaeological evidence of life from other times during the past 2,000 years. Sometimes, the Arabs claim, “My grandfather had a farm here,” but the rocky soil in question could never have been a farm.
So how do the present-day Arabs find out about their “holdings” if they never took them seriously before and didn’t even know they existed? Unscrupulous Israeli Jewish lawyers, part ambulance chasers and part leftist activists, go to the Jordanian land records and find written references to Arab X “owning” plot Y. Then they go to the Arabs, tell them what they found, and ask their permission to sue the Jews. The Arabs lose nothing and have no reason to object.
Still, even if we say that these Arabs did in fact knowingly inherit from their fathers or grandfathers lands given them by King Hussein, there is still another question. What right did King Hussein have to give the lands away to anyone?
In 1918, the British awarded the Land of Israel, including Jordan, to the Jewish People via the Balfour Declaration. Just three years later, in 1921, following Arab rioting and tantrums, the British reneged on part of the Balfour Declaration and made a new Arab state across the Jordan River, which they called, interestingly enough, Transjordan, the Ever HaYarden of the Torah. They then imported Abdullah, King Hussein’s Saudi Arabian grandfather, a Saudi parliament member, to be ruler of that newly-invented country. In 1946, Abdullah crowned himself king, and during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, Jordan grabbed Judea and Samaria, annexing it to Transjordan. In effect, it added the “West Bank” of the Jordan River to the “East Bank” already under his control. The annexation was regarded as illegal and void by the Arab League and others. It was recognized only by the United Kingdom, Iraq, and Pakistan. Soon after Abdullah’s death, in 1952, his grandson Hussein took over, and it was he who, as I said, gave these land parcels as gifts to Jordanians so as to claim taxes. By what right did he do that?
At the risk of sounding “controversial,” I can stretch this discussion one step further. What right did the Jordanians, British, Ottoman Turks, Mamluks, Crusaders, Moslem conquerors, Persians, Byzantines, or Romans have to the G-d-given Land of Israel?
Yet let us assume that the Supreme Court ignores the weakness of the Jordanian annexation of Judea and Samaria, ignores the fact that the Arabs didn’t actually buy anything and never actually lived on the lands in question, let alone knew that they existed. Let us assume, further, that the Court ignores the fact that the whole claim may be a lie and determines that, despite all of the above, the best thing to do is to physically pull the Jews out of their homes, find the Arabs in question, and say to them, “Here is your land; please take it.”
Assuming all of that, what recourse do Jews in Judea and Samaria have to avoid being told one day that their homes, bought and paid for 30 years before, with infrastructure built by the government, are now forfeit, and that they will now be thrown out?
Enter the Arrangements Law. The Arrangements Law, passed recently by the Knesset, states that if a Jew 1) innocently bought or built a home in Judea and Samaria assuming it to be not on private land and was given government permission to live there, and 2) the infrastructure of the town was at least partly paid for by the Israeli government, then that Jew’s home cannot be evacuated. If an Arab at some point surfaces and claims ownership (e.g., with the help of Israeli lawyers), 1) the burden is on him to prove that he really owns the land, and 2) if he manages to prove ownership, he can either receive 125% of the value of the land, or demand other land instead. The one thing he cannot do is disrupt the lives of the honest citizens living there by forcing their evacuation.
Make sense? I think so. Call it the “Common Sense Law.”
The big question now is this: Will the Israeli Supreme Court try to strike down this law? Stay tuned!
Former Baltimorean Raphael Blumberg writes from Kiryat Arba. He is the author of They Called Him Rebbe: The Life and Good Works of Rabbi Boruch M