Israel's Supreme Court has ordered the government to demolish the West Bank settlement of Amona within two years and relocate its 300 Jewish residents, moving to end a years-long legal battle.
In the ruling late Thursday, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis acknowledged that demolishing the community would be "difficult and painful" for its residents. However, he wrote, "this difficulty cannot enable illegal construction on private land" or justify failure to comply with the law.
Established in 1995 without explicit government permission, Amona is the largest of the unauthorized outposts in the West Bank and was built largely on privately owned Palestinian land.
A group of Palestinians claiming ownership of the land petitioned Israeli courts through the Israeli nongovernmental rights group Yesh Din in 2008, demanding removal of the outpost, access to the land and compensation.
As the court case progressed, the Israeli government conceded that the construction was illegal and should be dismantled. The state had agreed to evict the residents by the end of 2012 but repeatedly asked for extensions while it claimed to have purchased parts of the land from the Palestinian owners.
In a token move last year, settlers tore up an access road and removed a contested mobile home ahead of a court deadline.
In a landmark settlement in June, a Jerusalem court ruled that Israel must compensate six of a larger group of Palestinian petitioners and pay them around $76,000 for the loss of livelihood after being barred from the lands. Israel will pay an additional, smaller sum if the homes built on the petitioners' plots are not removed by the end of 2015.
In Amona, the ruling was met with anger and dismay. Community rabbi Yair Fink told local media that residents were not taken by surprise, given the prolonged "legal saga." At the same time, he said, "we believe the Supreme Court is mistaken and moreover, detached from the people and the Zionist vision."
Separately, Israeli forces continued searching for suspects in a firebomb attack on an Israeli car near the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Shomron that gravely injured an 11-year-old girl.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin extended wishes for the girl's recovery from her third-degree burns. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon vowed the army and intelligence services would know how to handle a recent spate of "popular terrorism," including firebombs.