Court rebukes government for seeking to again put off Khan al-Ahmar demolition

Judge rejects request for four-month postponement, forces state to respond to right-wing group’s demand that West Bank Bedouin hamlet be razed as soon as possible

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

View of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice issued a sharp rebuke on Tuesday of the government’s recent request for yet another delay in the court’s order to evacuate the illegal Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin encampment in the West Bank.

Justice Noam Sohlberg rejected the government’s request for a four-month extension for the submission of its position on the issue, and instead set a hearing for a request by the right-wing Regavim organization that the court issue a final order requiring the hamlet’s immediate evacuation and demolition.

The government had requested a four-month postponement of the court’s interim order dating back to 2018 for the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar to allow it to formulate a plan for carrying our the ruling.

Regavim objected to would be the ninth such extension, and requested instead that the court issue a final order instructing the state to immediately demolish the Bedouin encampment.

Sohlberg in his decision Tuesday accused the government of ongoing foot dragging over the issue, and of contradicting itself by saying it is committed to removing the Bedouin village but repeatedly failing to do so.

“Suffice it to say that we are not at all satisfied with the conduct of the state,” he wrote.

Likud MK’s Yuli Edelstein and Danny Danon visit the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Solberg wrote that the state’s behavior apparently demonstrates that “the existing situation is comfortable for it: Once every few months it files a request for an extension, which the petitioner opposes and the court accedes to through gritted teeth, and the world carries on as normal; deciding not to decide.”

He continued, “This mode of operation, which is perhaps possible in some circumstances outside of the court’s walls, is not acceptable to us, and certainly not for such a lengthy period of time.”

Sohlberg said the court understood that the government had only just taken office but that it could not agree to the request for a four-month extension “when experience teaches us that one postponement leads to another and there is never a substantive answer.”

He therefore set a hearing for Regavim’s demand for a final order for the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar for May 1, and gave the state until April 2 to respond to the request. He also awarded NIS 20,000 in costs to Regavim, a clear sign of judicial displeasure.

Following the court ruling, opposition MKs goaded ultranationalist leaders including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who have long demanded Khan al-Ahmar’s removal but who are now senior members of a government that has again sought to delay such action.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky — who was a member of the previous coalition, which also failed to evacuate the encampment — tweeted acerbically that “when it comes to actions, the High Court justices are more right-wing than Smotrich and Ben Gvir.”

Palestinian in the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank on January 23, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Khan al-Ahmar, located just east of Jerusalem, not far from Ma’ale Adumim, and believed to be home to fewer than 200 residents, was approved for demolition by the High Court in 2018.

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

Khan al-Ahmar’s Palestinian residents, members of the Jahalin tribe, say they arrived in the area in the 1950s after already being displaced during the 1948 War of Independence.

The evacuation of the village has been pushed off repeatedly for four years, largely owing to the significant public interest in the affair from human rights activists, pro-Palestinian groups and the European Union.

The state has prepared a site for the relocation of the encampment some 15 kilometers (nine miles) west of the current site next to the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem, which includes various rudimentary structures and infrastructure for a sewage system as well as the supply of water and electricity.

But the UN, EU, and other international bodies have warned that forcibly moving Khan al-Ahmar’s residents would violate international law and may even constitute a war crime, as displacement of a population under occupation is forbidden under international law.

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