The High Court of Justice agreed on Thursday to hold a hearing on a petition filed by residents of Khan al-Ahmar against the state’s decision to demolish the Bedouin village near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
The top legal body ordered that a hearing on the matter be held by August 15, meaning the demotion of the hamlet — originally green-lighted by the court in May — will be further delayed until after the session takes place and a decision is handed down.
In the beginning of July, the state began its preparations to raze the village, where none of the structures have been granted permits. Security forces were deployed to the village and construction workers began paving an access road that would facilitate the demolition and evacuation.
With the eviction appearing just days away, attorneys representing Khan al-Ahmar submitted an urgent petition last Wednesday that claimed the Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body 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.
The High Court ordered the state to respond to the petition, which it did earlier this week.
In its response, the state argued that the Supreme Court, in its initial ruling, discussed the option of legalizing the village but ultimately ruled against it. Moreover, the state claimed that village leaders had themselves never submitted any plans for the Civil Administration’s approval.
In light of that response, the High Court had the option to either accept the claims of the state by rejecting the Khan al-Ahmar petition or hold a hearing to gain more clarity on the matter. It chose to do the latter, giving some weight to the claims of the Bedouin residents.
An additional petition was filed on Monday by the same group of attorneys representing the village. That appeal claimed that no eviction orders were ever filed against the residents, as required before any village is cleared. Instead, the Palestinian attorneys asserted that only demolition orders were submitted.
In response to the petition, the High Court issued a temporary injunction preventing the state from carrying out its plans to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar, and ordered the state to respond by July 16.
Also offering the village a reprieve, the Defense Ministry body responsible for overseeing the demolition announced that it was going on strike beginning next Sunday, due to what it says is the Finance Ministry’s failure to implement improvements to workers’ pension plans promised nearly three years ago.
In their letter announcing the indefinite strike, the Civil Administration committee stated that among the projects that will not be carried out prior to their return to work is the Khan al-Ahmar evacuation.
Residents say this means they will be able to begin the new school year in the village on July 15 as originally planned. The hamlet has gained international attention for its school buildings made from tires, mud, and used cooking oil due to Israeli restrictions on construction.
After a years-long legal battle, the Supreme Court approved the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar in May. The state says the structures, mostly makeshift shacks and tents, 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, then in Jordan, since the 1950s, after the state evicted them from their Negev homes — had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as they 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.
Israel has pledged to resettle the residents, whom the UN says number 180 people.
Israel says it has offered the residents an alternative location, near a garbage dump belonging to the nearby Palestinian town of Abu Dis. But the villagers say the location is unsuitable for their way of life, and have also said residents of Abu Dis have warned them to stay away.
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 contiguous Israeli control from Jerusalem almost to the Dead Sea, a move critics say will bisect the West Bank, and make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
Last week, the IDF issued orders authorizing the seizure of access roads to the village.
Heavy demolition equipment has since been moved there, and last 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 the day prior, clashes broke out between police and protesters at the village. Residents and activists attempted to block construction equipment from advancing, leading to violent scuffles.
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.
Two of demonstrators were released shortly thereafter.
On Sunday, an Ofer Military Court judge ordered the conditional release of eight more Palestinians.
On Thursday, the judge ordered the last suspect, who is accused of throwing stones at troops, be released to house arrest.