After Amona, Israel eyes dismantling homes in Ofra

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Caravan homes are removed in the illegal outpost of Amona, a few days after residents were evicted, on February 7, 2017. (Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Following the forced evacuation last week of the Amona outpost, a Jewish settlement built illegally in the West Bank, nine buildings in the nearby Jewish settlement of Ofra are scheduled for demolition on March 5. The Israeli High Court ruled in February 2015 that these buildings, eight of which are homes, were illegally built on private Palestinian-owned land.

Located in the center of the West Bank, Ofra was founded in 1975. There are now some 3,500 Israeli citizens living there.

Under the Supreme Court’s ruling the affected buildings were to be demolished by Feb. 8. A three-month extension requested by the settlers was denied on Sunday this week. The motion claimed that the petitioners’ new homes were not ready yet.

Israeli police forces arrive at the outpost of Amona, on February 1, 2017, on the morning of the settlement's evacuation. (Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli police forces arrive at the outpost of Amona, on February 1, 2017, on the morning of the settlement’s evacuation. (Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Ever since the demolition order, the residents didn’t stand idly by, and began pushing toward the implementation of the verdict; they reviewed proper alternatives for relocation, and eventually decided to purchase new structures for their families in Ofra,” the motion said. “The process of completing the construction of the new houses has been delayed and it is still in progress. They will be completed in three months at the latest.”

Instead, the Court granted an extra month for security services to prepare for the evacuation.

Although the demolitions affect only nine buildings, the mayor of Silwad, an adjacent Palestinian town, has reportedly set his sights on dismantling the whole of Ofra.

“We are now going to evacuate the settlers from Ofra, I am preparing to get all the documents to give the Israeli High Court,” Mayor Abdul Rahman Saleh told the Times of Israel spurred on by the total evacuation of Amona.

The legality of settlement building in the West Bank is highly contentious. The general consensus of the international community is that all the West Bank settlements are violations of international law. Consensus maintains that the West Bank is “occupied territory” and that the building of settlements constitutes transferring parts of its own population into occupied territory, contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention 1949.

However, Israel does not accept that the West Bank is “occupied” within the meaning of the Convention as the area was not under the legitimate sovereign rule of any country prior to the Six-Day War of 1967. The territory came under Israeli control after the state was forced into the 1967 defensive war against several countries, including Jordan, which had illegally occupied the West Bank since 1948.

“[Palestinian] claims are based on massive land distributions that were carried out by Jordan during the early 1960’s in Judea and Samaria (the ‘West Bank’),” journalist and historian Dr Moshe Dann asserted, writing for Arutz Sheva. “These arbitrary land grants were unconditional and, according to Mandate and Jordanian law, when recorded in the land registry, gave the recipients title and permanent possession. Most of the land was never used and no taxes were paid, which are required by Ottoman law, and therefore should have nullified any claims of ownership.”

Nevertheless, the Israeli Supreme Court has found that the nine buildings in the Ofra settlement were indeed built on Palestinian-owned land. And, as it did with Amona, the government is preparing to follow through on the order to evacuate and demolish the homes.