Despite delay, Israel determined to destroy Khan al-Ahmar

A shepherd walks with his herd of sheep in the early hours of the morning in Khan al-Ahmar, 13 September. 

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Israel postponed the demolition and forcible transfer of the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar on Sunday.

The delay was intended “to exhaust a proposal for voluntary evacuation,” according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

Villagers have consistently and vehemently opposed a forcible transfer from their land, which can in no way be “voluntary” when made under threat.

“Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated, it’s a court ruling, that’s our policy and it will be done,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a press conference with US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday.

Netanyahu added that the delay will be brief, until residents grant Israel “consent” to vacate and destroy their village.

Right-wing Israeli ministers opposed Netanyahu’s decision, including education minister Naftali Bennett, justice minister Ayelet Shaked and lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich.

All three are members of the extreme right-wing nationalist party Habayit Hayehudi.

“Khan al-Ahmar has to be taken down. We have to stand against the world,” Smotrich said on Monday atop a hill overlooking the village, according to Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post.

“We need to remove this community after giving them an alternative,” deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely said at the hill earlier that day.

“The Israeli government invested millions in creating this alternative, and I think the international community would be much more helpful if they would not use the Bedouins as a political tool,” Hotovely said.

Yehuda Glick, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, and a leader in the Jewish extremist movement that aims to destroy Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, joined Hotovely on her visit to Khan al-Ahmar.

The choice between garbage or sewage

The alternatives Israel has proposed are not suitable for the nomadic lifestyle of Bedouins living in Khan al-Ahmar.

“Either next to a garbage dump or a sewage dump, those are the alternatives Israel is proposing,” Tawfique Jabareen, an attorney representing Khan al-Ahmar residents, told Israel’s i24 News.

Israel wants to force Khan al-Ahmar’s residents to move to an area called “al-Jabal West,” located near the landfill of the Palestinian village of Abu Dis. Israel also proposed moving the villagers to an area adjacent to a sewage treatment facility near the settlement of Mitzpe near the occupied West Bank city of Jericho.

Jabareen added that the villagers proposed to the Israeli high court migrating a few hundred meters from their current location but still remaining within Khan al-Ahmar, an idea Israel rejected.

ICC warns of war crimes

The delay announced by Israel came after International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda expressed concern over the situation in Khan al-Ahmar.

“Extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes,” Bensouda stated on 17 October.

“I therefore feel compelled to remind all parties that the situation remains under preliminary examination by my office.”

Israeli police and civil administration – the military bureaucracy that administers the occupation of the West Bank – have not been told to leave the land, according to Haaretz.

In recent weeks, Israeli authorities arrived in the village to prepare for the demolition, and at times arrested and injured protesters. Israeli settlers regularly harass residents as well:

Activists and journalists have been staying with residents overnight at the village to resist Israeli encroachment and the imminent demolition.

Khan al-Ahmar lies between the Israeli settlements of Maaleh Adumim and Kfar Adumim.

This land east of Jerusalem, the so-called E1 zone, is where Israel plans to expand its mega-settlement of Maaleh Adumim, completing the isolation of the northern and southern parts of the West Bank from each other and encircling Jerusalem with settlements.

All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law.

On Monday, France – one of a number of European states that have opposed Israel’s plan to destroy Khan al-Ahmar on the basis that doing so would jeopardize the two-state solution – said it “takes note” of the delay.

“We call on the Israeli authorities to permanently abandon their plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar and remove the uncertainty surrounding the fate of this village.”

However, other than verbal opposition, EU states have failed to spell out clear consequences for Israel if it defies these calls.

Taking over Hebron

Meanwhile, Israel approved a plan to expand a Jewish-only settlement in the heart of the occupied West Bank city of Hebron earlier this month.

This will be the first settlement construction in the heart of Hebron in over a decade, according to Haaretz.

Construction of the $6-million project, which is set to include 31 residential units, could begin any day.

Part of the project is on a former Israeli military base which, according to Haaretz, “was built on land that had been owned by Jews.”

Bogus land ownership claims are often put forward when Israel builds settlements in the West Bank.

“Setting fire to the region”

Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman celebrated the new settlement.

“A new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron, for the first time in 20 years,” he tweeted.

Lieberman praised the government for approving his plans for the neighborhood, the so-called Hezekiah Quarter, which he called “another important milestone in the extensive activity we are leading to strengthen settlement in Judea and Samaria.”

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint Arab List in Israel’s parliament, condemned the move, accusing the government of continually “setting fire to the region and then shouting that there is no partner” to make peace, all for the benefit of a “handful of extremist settlers.”

More than 800 settlers live in a zone in the heart of Hebron under full Israeli military control.

Israeli settlers permanently took over most of the city’s Ibrahimi mosque following the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers at the site by Baruch Goldstein, an American settler.

Palestinians have long feared that the division of the Ibrahimi mosque could serve as a model for an Israeli takeover of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa compound in whole or in part.

Settlers roam freely in the area of Hebron which is under full Israeli military control, while Palestinians are subjected to severe movement restrictions, including segregated roads, and violence and harassment by soldiers and settlers alike.

Hebron demolitions

Israeli occupation forces have meanwhile been carrying out demolitions of Palestinian homes in areas around Hebron and other parts of the occupied West Bank.

Earlier this month, Israeli forces confiscated a tent from a family of six in the village of Khirbet al-Halawa, in the occupied West Bank’s South Hebron Hills.

The family included four children, all of whom were left homeless, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported.

Khirbet al-Halawa is in a cluster of villages called Masafer Yatta.

On 3 October, Israeli forces arrived at Khirbet al-Mufaqara, also in Masafer Yatta, and confiscated building materials for a prefabricated home.

Residents of villages in Masafer Yatta have been living with the threat of forcible expulsion for two decades.

“Since the 1990s, Israel has been systemically attempting to drive the Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta from their home,” B’Tselem stated.

Both Masafer Yatta and Khan al-Ahmar lie in Area C, which constitutes 60 percent of the occupied West Bank.

Area C remains under complete Israeli military rule under the terms of the Oslo accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s.

Israel has refused to permit nearly all Palestinian construction in Area C, forcing Palestinians to build without permits and to live in constant fear that their homes or communities will be demolished.

Early Tuesday, Israeli occupation forces dismantled and seized caravans used as classrooms in Ibziq, a village in the northern Jordan Valley, in the occupied West Bank.

A video posted by activists shows Israeli forces carting the structures away on trucks.

The caravans were reportedly funded by the European Union and Finland, which have done nothing to hold Israel accountable for the destruction of tens of millions of dollars of projects for Palestinians paid for by European taxpayers.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.