Israeli judges give final approval for war crime in Khan al-Ahmar

Palestinian children watching an Israeli bulldozer

Palestinian children watch as a bulldozer operated by the Israeli army makes preparations to demolish their occupied West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar on 4 July. 

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Israel’s high court gave the final approval for the forced displacement of the Palestinian community of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank.

The decision will make the judges complicit in a war crime if the demolition – which could happen within days – takes place, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said.

The court had initially approved the demolition of the entire village in May, but the action was temporarily halted in July after attorneys for Khan al-Ahmar’s nearly 200 residents filed two petitions in the high court.

The judges accepted one of the petitions and held hearings in August.

On Wednesday, the high court denied the petition, lifted the temporary stay and gave Israeli authorities the all-clear to expel the residents within a week.

The judges “said the main issue in the case was not whether the eviction could be carried out, but where the residents would be relocated,” Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Israel wants to forcibly displace the residents of Khan al-Ahmar to an area near a garbage dump called al-Jabal West.

One of the judges rejected the villagers’ request to pause the evacuation until they find an alternative place to live, and criticized their refusal to live near the garbage dump.

Long before Wednesday’s court decision, Israel began preparations to demolish the village.

No justice in Israeli courts

In their ruling, the Israeli high court judges “described an imaginary world with an egalitarian planning system that takes into account the needs of the Palestinians, as if there had never been an occupation,” B’Tselem said on Wednesday.

“The reality is diametrically opposed to this fantasy: Palestinians cannot build legally and are excluded from the decision-making mechanisms that determine how their lives will look,” the group added. “The planning systems are intended solely for the benefit of the settlers.”

“This ruling shows once again that those under occupation cannot seek justice in the occupier’s courts,” B’Tselem said.

Israeli leaders celebrate war crime

Israeli leaders congratulated the judges for approving the forced displacement of the community, which is a war crime under international law.

Under the laws governing military occupation, an occupier can only displace people in case of military necessity. But Israel wants to clear the residents of Khan al-Ahmar from an area east of Jerusalem where it is engaged in intense colonization – also in violation of international law.

Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of the Israeli parliament and a member of the ruling Likud Party, boasted on Twitter that “pressure” from the European Union had done nothing to stop the court’s decision.

“In Israel there is a law and everyone is equal before it,” Edelstein claimed – precisely the opposite of reality.

European diplomats have paid visits to Khan al-Ahmar in the past year to show support for the community, but other than such symbolism, the European Union – which provides Israel with large amounts of aid and trade – has taken no action to hold Israel accountable.

Similarly, the EU has done nothing when Israel has demolished or confiscated schools or other buildings it or its member states have funded for Palestinians.

European diplomats reportedly told Israeli media that going ahead with the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar “would trigger a reaction from EU member states.”

But given the EU’s record of inaction, such warnings should be taken with a large dose of salt.

Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman also rejoiced at the court’s decision, tweeting that “Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated.”

He praised the judges for “a brave and necessary decision in the face of an orchestrated campaign of hypocrisy by Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas], the left and the European countries.”

By late Wednesday, EU spokespersons had yet to issue a reaction to the court’s decision.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.