High Court grants another delay in razing of West Bank Bedouin village

Judges cite government’s caretaker status ahead of elections as reason for postponement; pro-settlement group blasts government for ‘not knowing how to protect’ Israel’s interests

Illustrative. The Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative. The Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Monday granted the government a four-month extension to respond to a petition by a pro-settlement legal group over the planned demolition of the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, following a series of postponements that have prevented its evacuation for years.

The three justices gave the state until February 1, 2023 to respond and explain why it hasn’t yet evacuated the hamlet, noting the current government is serving in a caretaker capacity ahead of the November 1 elections.

“We have no choice but to grant the request, despite its abnormality, and is a considerable extent to our displeasure,” the judges wrote in their decision.

The evacuation of the village has been pushed off repeatedly for four years for several reasons. Last year, the court granted a similar postponement after the government claimed to have made progress toward a plan for an evacuation, but insisted that it needed more time to study the matter.

In response to Monday’s ruling, Meir Deutsch, chair of the pro-settlement group Regavim, accused the government of “not knowing how to protect the national interests of the State of Israel.”

“The interim government is able to sign a historic gas agreement and appoint senior officials, but is unable to respond to a basic question: Why is an illegal outpost that has already been ruled by the High Court over and over again to be destroyed still standing?” Deutsch said, referring to a proposed US-brokered maritime deal between Israel and Lebanon.

Illustrative: Supreme Court justices arrive for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Critics of the state’s handling of the affair say the demolition has been repeatedly pushed off to avoid an international incident, as the village has gained public backing from human rights activists, pro-Palestinian groups and the European Union.

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.

Since then, the government led by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested a series of delays in the demolition, the last of which came in November 2020 in response to a Regavim petition.

Netanyahu came under fire in the past by right-wing lawmakers — some of whom now serve in the current coalition — for failing to carry out the demolition.

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 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.

The camp slowly grew until the 1990s, when it seemed to expand much more rapidly. The community today remains small, numbering less than 200 residents.

One of the ‘tire school’ buildings in the Khan al-Ahmar village near the Kfar Adumim settlement on February 7, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Right-wing Israeli groups say that the aerial photos are proof that the village was only recently built, weakening their claim to the land. They further claim that the Palestinian Authority deliberately sent the residents there to take over strategic West Bank land.

Palestinians and left-wing groups reject that argument, saying the community’s presence predates the PA.

The villagers argue that they had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as such permits 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.

Once the village is demolished, the state is hoping to transfer the residents several miles east, near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis. The relocation site was briefly 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. These have become a symbol for the current village.

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