The High Court of Justice on Wednesday said that there is no avoiding the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and implored the legal representatives of the West Bank Bedouin village to reach a compromise with the state on a new alternative location to move the residents.
After gaining the green light from the top court in May to demolish the Palestinian hamlet adjacent to the Kfar Adumim settlement, the state had planned to move the residents to a site near a garbage dump belonging to the Palestinian town of Abu Dis.
Residents of Khan al-Ahmar — 180 in number, according to the UN — have vehemently opposed moving there, saying they were never consulted, the location is unsuitable for their rural way of life, and residents of Abu Dis have warned them to stay away.
Wednesday’s hearing was convened following a pair of last-ditch petitions submitted by attorneys representing the Bedouin village to prevent the demolition.
The panel of judges appeared to stand by the May ruling allowing the state to evict the residents, but they urged the state to offer an alternative site that would be more suitable to the residents.
The judges called a one-hour recess in order to give the sides a final opportunity to reach a compromise.
During that time, the state offered to install tents for the residents at the government’s expense at the originally proposed site near Abu Dis. It would also hook up the school there to water and electricity.
Additionally, the state vowed to advance an additional alternative site for the Khan al-Ahmar residents that would be located east of the Mitzpe Jericho settlement, on the condition that the villagers would agree to peacefully leave their current location within a week.
The attorneys for the Bedouin hamlet rejected the offer, asserting that the High Court still had the power to overturn its May decision and saying there were technical problems in the state’s plans to clear the village.
The Khan al-Ahmar residents are uninterested in the site near Abu Dis, even temporarily. They have stated that they are willing to move either a couple hundred feet further from the highway along which they currently are situated, or to their original grounds in the Negev.
With the sides unable to reach a compromise, the panel of judges ordered the state to submit, within five days, its new alternative proposal for rehousing the residents east of Mitzpe Jericho.
The Khan al-Ahmar villagers will then have five days to officially respond to the proposal, though they are expected to quickly reject it as they did verbally in court on Wednesday.
In the meantime, the top legal body ordered the state not to demolish the village.
In the beginning of July, the state had begun its preparations to raze the hamlet, 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.
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 the villagers — who have lived at the site, then in 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 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.
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.
Officials from over ten governments in Europe, including Britain and France, have visited Khan al-Ahmar in recent weeks and have called on the Israeli government to avoid razing the village. In addition, several dozen Democratic members of THe US Congress have signed a letter urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent the demolition.