As we drive to Amona on the curving mountain roads from Ofra, a settlement in the Binyamin region, my friend says, “Amona is special; it’s a place where people believe. I come up here to believe.”
Amona was first settled in 1995 by youth from Ofra, who had grown up playing on the deserted hilltop overlooking their homes. As they grew older, they decided to settle the hilltop, receiving government backing to build the new community. They named it Amona, after the verse in Joshua 18:23, “These are the cities of the tribes of the children of Binyamin…Ofra…and K’far Ha’Amona.”
The homes in Amona were simple houses and caravans. The colorful children’s clothing waving on laundry lines and the hand decorated paintings on the doors radiated warmth. Little girls in print dresses and boys with long side locks lingered outside as parents called them in for bedtime.
As we stood together on the hilltop, overlooking Ofra, we saw all of it enveloped by a cloud. It looked almost as if the land was part of the sky; from the Amona hilltop, the universe seemed different. Land, sky, wind, and people were suspended in a dream-like reality.
In December 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the state to completely evacuate and demolish Amona within two years. This ruling was based on a petition claiming that Amona was built upon privately owned Palestinian land. The petition was submitted by Yesh Din, an Israeli non-profit human rights organization. According to i24, an Israeli news source, Ibrahim Jumah of Ramallah, one of the Palestinians claiming ownership explained, “Each farmer in this land has a memory, a story and something to be proud of in these lands, which bound him to it.”
With the approaching demolition date, Amona activists and residents loudly protested the demolition and evacuation order. Behind the order lurked the trauma of the 2006 order to demolish nine Amona building structures. The High Court order for the police to employ violence against non-compliant protestors led to scarring brutality in the clashes between police and protesters. The government’s enforcement of police violence against the people of Amona resulted in what some Israelis refer to as a “pogrom,” and has left behind wounds that deepened with this year’s evacuation.
The protest led to a government agreement arranged in late January, that would allow for 24 of Amona’s 42 families to move to an adjacent plot of land on the hilltop, while the remaining residents would relocate to Ofra. Amona residents agreed to the compromise, promising to leave their homes without protest.
However, local Palestinians objected to the agreement, claiming ownership of the entire hilltop. The High Court approved these claims, prohibiting any remaining Jewish presence on the hilltop. In response, Netanyahu announced the establishment of a new West Bank settlement where the people of Amona can rebuild their homes and community. Yet, this announcement has been met with great national and international opposition, leaving the homeless families of Amona in the dark regarding their fate.
On February 1, several days before the final eviction deadline, the Amona eviction began. Three-thousand police members arrived at the hilltop, where about one-thousand protesters had come to join their brothers and sisters in Amona. Community members rose early to pray, in case the eviction should begin while they were still in the middle of prayer services. The Defense Ministry began by taking down the outpost’s water and electric infrastructure. They then loaded the smaller houses onto trucks. Photographs show police officers carrying residents from their homes. Several families left Amona before the evacuation began, choosing to avoid the pain of the eviction scene. They carried the Torah scrolls of the synagogue out with them.
The evacuation was more peaceful than the 2006 attempt. Amona residents requested that protesters refrain from the use of violent protest. Additionally, Rabbi David Lau, Israel’s Chief Rabbi, called for protesters to refrain from violence. Amona’s synagogue was the last place to be evacuated—protesting youth had chained themselves to the synagogue floor.
By February 2, Amona, the hilltop where land and sky meet, was once again desolate. In an article published by Haaretz prior to the evacuation, Yaaqub of Ein Habrud expressed concern regarding his return to the land. “I feel happy—but it’s an incomplete happiness because I still have not been able to reach my land…Maybe they’ll let us go to our lands. But we’ll probably be left with the same problem. I still won’t be able to get my land back,” he said. Marriam Hammad of Silwad is more optimistic: “I had a gut feeling and faith in God I would return,” she stated.
It’s February, and I’m on the phone, speaking to my friend in Ofra, 5,687 miles away. We are discussing the evacuation. “I always thought that I would one day live in Amona,” she says. As I look up at the Manhattan skyscrapers, she whispers over the phone, “I feel like a part of me is being dismantled together with Amona.”