After settlement dismantled, Palestinian villagers wait to return to their land

Silwad, Palestinian Territories: Mariam Hamad remembers perfectly the day more than 20 years ago when her land was taken by Israelis to build the illegal settlement of Amona.
But a week after the Jewish village was finally demolished following a two-decade legal struggle, Hamad and other Palestinian land owners still don’t know if or when they will be able to set foot on their soil again.
The tiny settlement, home to just forty families, was evacuated and demolished last week amid protests and even violence from Jewish hardliners.
Israel’s courts declared it was built on private Palestinian land. But the demolition prompted Israel’s rightwing to propose a law opposing similar moves against other illegal settlements.
It passed through parliament this week in a move criticised by world powers. Largely forgotten amid the turmoil of Amona’s destruction and its wider ramifications are the six families who originally owned the land.
For them the demolition should herald a longed-for return to the land they called not Amona but simply Al-Mazarea, the farms in Arabic.
On the hilltop near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank they used to cultivate tomatoes and watermelons one year, wheat the next, said 83-year-old Hamad.
In her house in nearby Silwad she still has a sheaf of dried wheat from the last unfinished harvest.
“We worked in the fields with my husband until the settlers forced us out,” Hamad remembered, saying the Jewish arrivals came armed. “This land is not yours, it’s ours,’ they said” she recalled.
Despite the demolitions, she and the other owners are waiting to see if they can return, with the Israeli army still in control.
Hamad said she was “hopeful” but also had strong doubts, with other landowners also uncertain.
The international community considers all settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem illegal, with more than 600,000 settlers now living on land the Jewish state occupied in 1967.
Settlements are viewed as one of the main obstacles to peace with the Palestinians.
Israel distinguishes between government-approved settlements and what it calls “outposts” such as Amona, which are illegal and in theory should be demolished.
The demolition of Amona sparked a bill passed by the Israeli parliament this week which legalised more than 50 other illegal outposts, in a move condemned by the United Nations, the European Union and others.
After Amona was formed in 1995, Hamed twice tried to return to her two-and-a-half hectares. — AFP