Government asks High Court for more time to prepare razing of Bedouin village

Request comes in response to right-wing petition demanding clarification as to why Khan al-Ahmar has not been demolished, in ongoing saga

The West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, on October 21, 2018. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)
The West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, on October 21, 2018. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

The state told the High Court of Justice on Monday that it will not raze the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the southern West Bank in the next several months and asked to be granted more time to iron out details of how the removal will be implemented.

The request in the name of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz was filed — a day after it was due — in response to a petition by the pro-settlement Regavim movement demanding that the government explain why it has not carried out the demolition order, first issued over a decade ago.

“The political echelon decided that the current period does not allow the demolition orders in the complex to be implemented during the next four months,” said the response, which was signed by head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben Shabbat; and Avi Roee, adviser to the Defense Ministry for settlement affairs.

The Prime Minister’s Office, in coordination with the Defense Ministry, will make “an additional effort to complete processes that are currently underway in the Civil Administration to examine additional options for formulating an agreed-upon outline” for the demolition.

“To do this, the political echelon needs an additional period of several months,” the response said, while noting that there are “broad considerations” that will influence when the village is removed.

Despite asking for a delay, the state said it still “insists on the need to implement the demolition orders in the compound, and in this matter, there is no change in its position.”

The West Bank Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, October 21, 2018. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Regavim criticized the government’s response as being no different from other declarations of intent that it has made in the past.

“The alleged commitment on the part of the state to enforce the law and to hold talks with the residents is no different from the previous times in which the state declared the exact same things to the High Court,” the group’s director, Meir Deutsch, said in a statement.

“Each time, another card is drawn from the pile of excuses that prevents the implementation of the state’s declarations,” Deutsch said. “We wonder if Netanyahu has confused ‘cannot’ and ‘don’t want to.'”

Though Netanyahu and Gantz issued a joint response, there is a background dispute between Defense Ministry officials, who say they want to immediately carry out the demolition, and the Prime Minister’s Office, which is wary of the diplomatic fallout, the Globes news site reported.

Two months ago, the court agreed to a government request to delay the petition hearing, setting November 1 as the deadline for submitting a response, but the paperwork was not filed by Sunday.

In May 2018, the Supreme Court ruled to greenlight the state’s plans to demolish the village.

There has been strong international pressure on Israel to reverse its plans to raze the village, which Israeli authorities say was built illegally. The village is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.

The razing of Khan al-Ahmar has been a key concern for many settlers, as well as others in the broader Israeli right, who have criticized the government for carrying out demolitions at the Netiv Ha’avot and Amona outposts, while allowing the Palestinian village to remain standing.

Once the village is demolished, residents are to be transferred several miles east, near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis. The relocation site was hooked up to water, electricity, and sewage, and has a school to replace the current Italian-funded institution, which was constructed from mud-caked tires and has become a symbol for the village.

But residents 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. They also say residents of Abu Dis have warned them to stay away.

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