High Court says state can’t clear West Bank Bedouin village before July 16

Judges accept second petition in less than a week from lawyers representing Khan al-Ahmar; temporary injunction comes as workers’ strike threatens to further delay eviction

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

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 issued a temporary injunction on Monday evening, preventing the state from carrying out plans to evacuate a West Bank Bedouin village, days after halting the controversial plan.

The ruling followed an urgent petition by a group of Palestinian lawyers representing the community of Khan al-Ahmar near the large West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

The appeal claims that no eviction orders were ever filed against the residents, as required before any village is cleared. Instead, the Palestinian attorneys claim that only demolition orders were submitted.

The High Court agreed to hear the petition and ordered the state to respond by July 16, meaning the evacuation will not take place before then.

Also offering the village a reprieve, the Defense Ministry body responsible for overseeing the demolition announced that it was going on strike beginning next Tuesday, due to what they say is the Finance Ministry’s failure to implement improvements to their pension plans promised nearly three years ago.

Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags as they protest against the upcoming demolition of the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar on July 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

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.

Monday’s temporary injunction follows a similar one issued by the High Court last Thursday, after another urgent petition from the attorneys representing the Bedouin village.

They then claimed that the Civil Administration refused to review a plan submitted by the villagers to legalize the village prior to ordering its demolition.

The High Court gave the state until Wednesday to respond.

If the top legal body — following the state’s response — chooses to reject the defense’s petition and the Civil Administration strike is completed, the government will be able to move forward with plans to demolish the village.

However, due to Monday’s new petition, it will not be able to evict the residents from the area until at least after July 16, when the state will have responded and the High Court gives its final ruling.

Bedouin students arrive at school at Khan al-Ahmar, near the Kfar Adumim settlement in the West Bank on September 2, 2016. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

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.

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

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 belonging to 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 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 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 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.

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.

Two of demonstrators were released shortly thereafter.

On Sunday, an Ofer Military Court judge ordered the conditional release of eight more Palestinians.

The judge extended the remand of the last suspect until Thursday, after the military prosecution said that it intends to indict her for stone throwing.

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