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

But justices warn government they will not give indefinite extensions for demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, and expect a final decision on matter by March 2022

View of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of 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 another six months’ delay in the planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village in the West Bank that Israel says was constructed illegally, in the latest in a series of postponements that have prevented its removal for years.

The panel of three justices said it was persuaded by the government’s claim, made earlier this month, that significant progress had been made toward a plan for demolishing the village and moving its residents to another location. The state had presented a confidential document to the court containing details of the plan.

Presiding Judge Noam Sohlberg said the expectation was that at the end of the next six months, “we will be presented with a clear decision, after exhausting all the possibilities.”

The right-wing pro-settlement Regavim group last year petitioned the court, asking it to force the government to carry out the decision, approved three years ago, to remove the village.

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 government now has until March 6, 2022, to resolve the matter.

Nonetheless, the court slammed the government over the prolonged delay in concluding the Khan al-Ahmar affair and its continued requests for more time.

Bedouin rights group The Friends of Jahalin said the court should have rejected the petition.

“It is time to find a fair and agreed-upon solution,” the group said in a statement. “A solution for the good of the Bedouin, but no less for the good of Israeli society.”

In 2018, the Supreme Court approved the demolition of the village, which is located not far from Ma’ale Adumim and is believed to be home to fewer than 200 Bedouin residents. Since 2018, the government led by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has requested a series of delays in the demolition, the latest of which came in November 2020 in response to the Regavim petition.

Then in July, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sent a request to the attorney general and cabinet secretary for a further delay, saying the new government, installed a month earlier, needed more time to study the matter.

In the past, several of the right-wing parties in the current coalition — including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope — criticized Netanyahu over his failure 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.

But the villagers — who have lived at the site, then controlled by Jordan, since the 1950s, after the state evicted them from their Negev homes — 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, residents are slated 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.

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