Government seeks extension on razing Bedouin hamlet despite far-right’s demands

Khan al-Ahmar has long been targeted for demolition by right-wing organizations and politicians, but its removal has been delayed due to strong diplomatic pressure

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

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 government has requested the High Court of Justice grant it a four-month extension to allow it to fully formulate a plan to evacuate the Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, despite the past insistence of ultra-nationalist parties Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit — now in the coalition — that the village be demolished as soon as possible.

Despite requesting an extension, the government stated in its response to the High Court that it was committed to demolishing Khan al-Ahmar, in line with its past commitments to the court to do so in response to petitions by the right-wing Regavim organization.

If the court grants the government’s request it would be the ninth such extension since a 2018 ruling that the encampment should be removed.

The village, located not far from Ma’ale Adumim and believed to be home to fewer than 200 Bedouin residents, was approved for demolition 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. They recount practicing a nomadic lifestyle for years before putting down a permanent settlement.

The evacuation of the village has been pushed off repeatedly for four years. The village has gained public backing from human rights activists, pro-Palestinian groups and the European Union, with multiple bodies warning that moving it could constitute a war crime, as displacement of a population under occupation is forbidden under international law.

Likud MK Danny Danon chastised the government for further delaying a decision on the issue, calling it a “dangerous precedent that gives a tailwind to illegal Palestinian construction.”

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

Otzma Yehudit faction chairman MK Yitzhak Kroizer also criticized the new delay, saying “the government’s evasion of evacuating Khan al-Ahmar will blow up in our faces,” adding “we were elected to rule, not to hesitate — the government must compose itself and evacuate Khan al-Ahmar once and for all, the sooner the better.”

Regavim has waged a lengthy battle to have Khan al-Ahmar demolished, as part of its larger struggle against Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank where Israel has full civil and military control.

In its filing to the High Court Wednesday, the state said: “Because of the complexity and sensitivities of the issue at hand, and due to the great interest it has aroused among different elements of the international community and its consequences for the State of Israel’s foreign relations and security at the present time — professional government officials were instructed to complete the relevant staff work in order to formulate an exact response to the court.”

The government said this work was ongoing and that it needed the extension to allow professional advisers to complete their evaluations and present the “full range of considerations” pertinent to the issue to the relevant government ministers.

Regavim was highly critical of the government’s request for yet another extension, bearing in mind the self-declared fully right-wing character of the new coalition and the previous demands of the coalition’s own members for the speedy demolition of Khan al-Ahmar.

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

The organization responded to the state’s request for postponement by requesting that the High Court issue a final order for the encampment’s demolition.

“We were hoping for an appropriate response by a national right-wing government — as promised in the election campaign,” said Director-General of Regavim Meir Deutsch.

“There is no justification for this. Like Cato in ancient Rome, we continue to repeat the same demand, to hold the same consistent position, to call upon our representatives in the government to act immediately to evacuate this illegal encampment — as well as dozens of other Palestinian Authority outposts created in the same mold — not 300 meters away from its present location, but to the neighborhood prepared precisely for this purpose near Abu Dis.”

In a visit to the site on Monday led by the left-wing B’Tselem human rights organization, several foreign diplomats expressed their support for the residents of the village and opposition to its demolition.

“The residents of Khan al-Ahmar are protected persons under international law. Demolishing this community contravenes international law, and Israel has obligations as an occupying power,” said Ireland’s Representative to the Palestinian Authority Don Sexton. “We support the two-state solution, and destroying this community will undermine the chances of achieving that.”

Khan al-Ahmar Community leader ‘Eid Jahalin (Abu Hamis) appealed directly to the diplomats, saying: “Israel is trying to destroy this community, as part of its attempt to cut the West Bank in two and thwart the two-state solution, which the entire world supports. Will the international community prevent this war crime?”

Khan al-Ahmar community leader ‘Eid Jahlin addresses a delegation of foreign diplomats in the West Bank Bedouin encampment, January 30, 2023. (Keren Manor, B’Tselem)

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, and the hamlet’s first structures appear in aerial photographs in the late 1970s. By the end of the 1980s, the tiny community’s presence in the area was recorded in contemporaneous academic accounts.

Regavim and other right-wing groups say the aerial photos are proof the village was only built recently, weakening the Bedouin claims to the land, and claim further that the Palestinian Authority deliberately sent the residents there to take over strategic West Bank land.

The state has prepared a site for the relocation of the encampment some 15 kilometers (9 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.

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