4 activists arrested for obstructing police prep for Khan al-Ahmar demolition

2 Israelis and 2 Palestinians detained after climbing on top of bulldozer outside central West Bank hamlet slated for razing

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Four activists were arrested Monday morning after blocking construction equipment from operating in Khan al-Ahmar ahead of the Palestinian hamlet’s demolition, police said.

The two Israelis and two Palestinians were obstructing a bulldozer that was being operated by a Defense Ministry worker to clear a swamp that had formed due to the bursting of a water pipe near the central West Bank village.

Activists reported that security forces had been violently pushing back dozens of protesters who had converged on the scene upon the arrival of Israeli troops, and that at least three had been injured.

Several other bulldozers were also on site to pave additional roads in preparation for the demolition.

Last week, employees of the Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body that is facilitating the court-authorized razing of Khan al-Ahmar — drained a swamp that villagers claimed had flowed from the neighboring Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim. However, the town’s mayor, Danny Tirza, rejected the accusations, claiming that the settlement’s sewage flows down another hilltop, not near the Bedouin hamlet.

Late last month, the Civil Administration warned residents that if they did not pack up their things and demolish all structures by October 1, Israeli authorities would do so for them.

Two weeks have passed since then and Khan al-Ahmar still stands, but residents as well as a number of defense officials have told The Times of Israel that they are expecting the razing to take place this week, if not within the next 24 hours.

Nonetheless, a spokeswoman for the Civil Administration said that plans are still being finalized and that no date has been set for the demolition.

An Israeli bulldozer and sewage truck work to drain a swamp and clear a road in Khan al-Ahmar ahead of the Bedouin village’s demolition on October 15, 2018. (Christine Rinawi)

In May, the High Court of Justice allowed the state to move forward with its plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, which was established illegally without building permits.

Attorneys representing the villagers filed several appeals, attempting to cancel or at least delay the razing. Last month, the High Court rejected a final appeal from Khan al-Ahmar residents and authorities have since been preparing to flatten the hamlet and transfer the residents several miles east near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, in a move that has drawn international condemnation of Israel.

The relocation site is hooked up to water, electricity and sewage and has a school to replace the current Italian-funded institution, which is made of falafel oil- and mud-caked tires and which has become a symbol for the village.

But residents of Khan al-Ahmar — 180 in number, according to the UN — have vehemently opposed moving there, saying that they were never consulted, the location is unsuitable for their rural way of life and is next to a garbage dump, and residents of Abu Dis have warned them to stay away.

Israeli security forces scuffle with American-French protester Frank Romano on September 14, 2018, during a protest against the expected demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

They have similarly been uninterested in a second relocation site proposed to them by the state two months ago adjacent to the nearby settlement of Mitzpe Jericho as well as to a sewage treatment facility.

They have argued that they submitted a building plan outline to the Civil Administration, but that it was never considered by the Defense Ministry body, which authorizes West Bank construction, nor the High Court before it green-lighted Khan al-Ahmar’s razing.

The state says the hamlet’s structures, mostly makeshift shacks and tents, were built without permits and pose a threat to residents because of their proximity to a highway.

The villagers — who have lived at the site, then controlled by Jordan, since the 1950s, after the state evicted them from their Negev homes — argue that they had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as such permits are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as where Khan al-Ahmar lies, where Israel exerts full control over civilian affairs.

Opponents of the demolition also argue that it is part of an effort to enable the expansion of the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim, and to create a region of Israeli control from Jerusalem almost to the Dead Sea, a move critics say will bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

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