Israel may force Bedouins to live beside garbage dump, says court

Students walk home from school in the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar. Their village and school will be destroyed to make way for Israeli settlements.

Faiz Abu Rmeleh ActiveStills

Israel’s high court this week approved the forced displacement of residents from Khan al-Ahmar village in the occupied West Bank.

Their village will be destroyed to make way for the expansion of Israeli settlements. That is a war crime under international law, human rights groups have warned.

Israel issued expulsion orders to residents of Khan al-Ahmar multiple times in the past year, even though legal proceedings were ongoing in Israeli courts.

The Israeli authorities were waiting for the high court’s blessing to complete the forcible transfer.

Following this week’s verdict, the village can be destroyed “any time the government sees fit as of next month,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported.

Residents had devised an alternative plan for their community but it was rejected by Israel’s defense ministry.

A village leader, Eid Khamis Jahalin, said that residents of the community do not accept the court’s decision, according to Quds News Network. He stressed that there is no alternative for the community other than to return to the Naqab region of historic Palestine, from which they were originally displaced by the Israeli military in the 1950s.

“Israel has not made a counteroffer for the issue to be resolved without a demolition,” The Times of Israel reported.

Khan al-Ahmar is home to members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe. It includes 32 families, numbering more than 170 people, half of them children.

The entire community will be forcibly displaced to an area near the garbage dump for the Palestinian village of Abu Dis to make way for Israeli settlement expansion.

Palestinian schoolchildren in uniform pose for a picture.

Palestinian schoolchildren pose for a picture in Khan al-Ahmar. Israel is planning to demolish their school, which serves 160 children from five villages. 

Faiz Abu Rmeleh ActiveStills

A judge on the case, Noam Sohlberg, said he was aware that the forced displacement of the community near the landfill “does not suit their needs as residents and as schoolchildren.” The judge added, however, that the jury in the case was not concerned with the plan for the community but in assessing the legality of the proposed demolition.

Khan al-Ahmar’s school was built in 2009 out of rubber tires and mud with the help of an Italian organization – in an attempt to evade Israel’s restriction on Palestinians using cement for construction – and has been under constant threats of demolition.

It is the “only school accessible to 160 children from five villages in the area,” Human Rights Watch has stated.

Making way for illegal settlements

Khan al-Ahmar is located 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 will be demolished.

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

This land east of Jerusalem, the so-called E1 area, 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.

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

International calls

The high court’s decision also comes after numerous international calls to stop the demolition.

More than 70 US lawmakers wrote a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 21 May urging him to halt the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, a second village.

“Instead of forcibly evicting Palestinian communities, we encourage your government to fairly re-evaluate their requests for building rights,” the letter states. It follows a letter written last year by 10 US senators who also appealed to Netanyahu to halt the demolitions.

European Union delegations have paid visits to Khan al-Ahmar in the past year to also show support for the community. The EU has funded some construction projects in the neighborhood.

Although the EU funds the construction of many buildings for Palestinians in Area C, it has never tried to hold Israel accountable for the regular practice of demolishing projects that the EU has funded.

From 2001 until 2016, Israel caused an estimated $74 million in destruction to EU-funded projects. That includes $26 million of destruction to EU projects during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza.

Khan al-Ahmar is one of 12 Palestinian communities, with a total of about 1,400 residents, in the area east of Jerusalem now facing expulsion.

Locals fear that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar will pave the way for the demolition of other communities in the E1 area.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.