High Court freezes demolition of West Bank Bedouin village

State told to respond by next week to petition filed by Khan al-Ahmar, alleging Civil Administration refused to review plans submitted by residents to legalize their homes

Israeli policemen scuffle with Palestinian demonstrators in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, on July 4, 2018. (FLASH90)
Israeli policemen scuffle with Palestinian demonstrators in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, on July 4, 2018. (FLASH90)

The High Court of Justice on Thursday night issued a temporary injunction preventing the state from carrying out plans to demolish a West Bank Bedouin village.

Following an urgent petition submitted by Alaa Mahajna on behalf of the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, the court froze the demolition of the village, giving the state until July 11 to respond.

The petition says the Civil Administration, in charge of construction permits in the West Bank, never offered any plans to legalize the village, and refused to review a plan submitted by the villagers.

After a years-long legal battle, the Supreme Court approved the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar in May. The state says the structures were built without the relevant building permits and pose a threat to the village residents because of their proximity to a highway.

But activists say the villagers — who have lived at the site since the 1950s after the state evicted them from their Negev homes — had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as these are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as Khan al-Ahmar, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

Israeli policemen scuffle with Palestinian demonstrators in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar east of Jerusalem on July 4, 2018 (FLASH90)

The village is made up mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is traditionally the case with Bedouin villages.

Israel has pledged to resettle the residents, which the UN says number 180 people.

Israel says it has offered the residents an alternative location, near a garbage dump in the nearby Palestinian town of Abu Dis. Bedouin villagers say the location is unsuitable for their way of life, and have also said residents of Abu Dis have warned them not to come there.

On Tuesday, activists said, Israel issued orders authorizing the seizure of access roads to the village.

Heavy equipment has since been seen there, and on Thursday bulldozers could be seen widening the access road to the village, feeding speculation that a road was being prepared to facilitate the evacuation and demolition.

On Wednesday clashes broke out between police and protesters at the village. Residents and activists attempted to block construction equipment from advancing, leading to violent scuffles.

Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags as they try to prevent a tractor from paving an access road to the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar on July 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Police said in a statement that 11 people were arrested during disturbances at the site, and that rocks were thrown at officers. Israeli rights group B’Tselem said the detainees included the organization’s own head of field research.

And on Thursday European diplomats tried to pay a solidarity visit to the village, but police barred them from reaching a school there.

Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland sought to visit the school which is funded by several European countries, but they were turned back at the village entrance.

Police at the scene said the area had been declared a closed military zone.

“We were briefed by local leaders but refused access by security forces to the school,” the Irish representative office to the West Bank wrote on its official Twitter feed.

European General Consuls of France (L), Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, Findand, Denmark and European Union are blocked by Israeli police as they try to visit the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank east of Jerusalem on July 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

“We wanted to show our solidarity with this village which is threatened with destruction, for humanitarian reasons and because it is a major issue of international law,” the Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, told journalists at the scene.

He said that demolishing the village would be a violation of the Geneva convention, laying out the obligations of an occupier toward those under its control.

It would also significantly complicate the search for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Opponents of the demolition say it is part of an effort to to enable the expansion of the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim, and to create a region of contiguous Israeli control from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.

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