Israel has begun paying compensation worth 64 million shekels ($17.5 million) to illegal Israeli settlers forcibly evacuated from the occupied West Bank.
The money will be paid to settlers from three illegal Israeli outposts – Amona, Ofra and Netiv Ha'avot – which were forcibly evacuated after being built in the occupied West Bank without approval from the Israeli government. Though Israel differentiates between outposts and settlements, both are illegal under international law.
The Israeli government today announced that it would pay 64 million shekels in compensation to the families of the three outposts, Arutz Sheva reported. The head of the Israeli regional council where the outposts were located, Yisrael Gantz, said of the decision: "I thank the government secretariat, the interior minister […] for their energetic action. I am certain that the aid money will be invested in building permanent homes in Amichai. Beyond that, we pray and hope for our return to Amona."
Gantz was referring to the government-sanctioned settlement of Amichai, located north of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Amichai is inhabited by 40 families who were evacuated from Amona in February 2017, after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it was built on private Palestinian land. During the evacuation, clashes erupted between the settlers and Israeli forces, with 20 police officers injured and 13 arrested for "disturbances". The families moved in to Amichai in March 2018, the first "new" settlement to be built in 25 years.
In August, Israel revealed plans to expand Amichai to triple its size in a bid to "legalise" the nearby outpost of Adei Ad, a move which Israeli NGO Yesh Din said would deny neighbouring Palestinians access to their farmland. Adei Ad was previously home to Amiram Ben-Uriel, the extremist Israeli settler responsible for the arson attack against the Dawabsheh family in 2015. The attack killed three members of the family, including 18-month-old baby Ali, and left his brother Ahmed orphaned. The Dawabsheh's home was situated in the village of Duma, some four kilometres from the Amichai settlement and overlooked by the Adei Ad outpost.
Despite being evacuated in 2017, in December a group of illegal settlers tried to re-establish an outpost on the old Amona site. Amid a week marred by violence across the occupied West Bank, the former Amona settlers took matters into their own hands in what they called "the basic Zionist response to Arab terror". The regional council said it had erected two modular homes – prefabricated buildings often used to establish illegal Israeli outposts – at the site.
At the time, Yisrael Gantz thanked Knesset Member (MK) Bezalel Smotrich for his help in promoting the reconstruction of Amona. Smotrich is renowned for his support of extreme right-wing settlers, the extent of which was thrust into the spotlight in December when Yesh Din demanded that an investigation be opened into his social media incitement. Yesh Din asked Israel's Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, to open a criminal probe into a tweet in which Smotrich called on illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank to attack Palestinian vehicles on Route 60.
That night, scores of Israeli settler youth went to Route 60 to throw stones at passing Palestinian vehicles, forcing them to leave the road in order to avoid further damage or injury. Video footage showed masked settlers throwing stones at Palestinians' windshields, before continuing down the road to target more vehicles.
Speaking about today's compensation verdict, Smotrich said: "We will not forget the glorious settlement and the hold on the Amona ridge. The heroes of Amona, who have not broken down, continue to establish a central community in the hills of Shilo [off Route 60, south of Nablus], and the aid money will be of great help."
Earlier this month, Smotrich was elected head of the National Union, an extreme faction of the already right-wing Jewish Home party. Speaking shortly after his victory, Smotrich expressed his ambition to lead the whole Jewish Home party – which has not chosen a leader to replace Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who broke away to form the New Right (Hayemin HeHadash) party in December.