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Israel to destroy Khan al-Ahmar hamlet, rebuild it 300 meters away – report

Government has till March 6 to resolve issue, as latest High Court extension expires; resident of West Bank Bedouin village says they oppose plan: ‘No one came to ask’

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 West Bank Bedouin hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar is to soon be evacuated and rebuilt 300 meters (328 yards) away, in a potential solution to a longstanding impasse that has involved intense international pressure not to raze the village, according to a Tuesday report.

An upcoming High Court discussion on the matter in March is forcing the government to act, Channel 12 reported. The network said an emerging compromise will be to destroy the hamlet — currently deemed illegal by Israel — and quickly rebuild it nearby, on state land.

There was no immediate comment from government or defense officials on the matter.

Eid Jahalin, a resident of the village, told Army Radio on Wednesday that he and his neighbors are against the plan.

“We all oppose this plan. No one came to ask the people, they decided alone,” he said.

The right-wing pro-settlement Regavim group slammed the reported planned move as “delusional.” It had petitioned the court last year, asking it to force the government to remove the village, following a decision that had been approved three years ago.

The West Bank Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, October 21, 2018. (AP/ Majdi Mohammed)

Head of the Religious Zionism Party MK Bezalel Smotrich in a tweet said the move would be “an unforgivable strategic Zionist [act of] foolishness.”

Right-wing opposition lawmakers Yoav Kisch of the Likud party and Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock also criticized the reported plan.

“This is a fake evacuation with highly dangerous repercussions,” they said in a joint statement. “The damage in legalizing Khan al-Ahmar is immense. The de facto meaning is that the State of Israel approves the Palestinian plan to take over this strategic area.”

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 has until March 6 to resolve the matter, the day a discussion is scheduled at the High Court.

Naftali Bennett speaks to reporters near the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 around 200 Bedouin residents. Since 2018, governments led by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested a series of delays in the demolition. The latest came in September 2021, under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

In the past, several of the right-wing parties in the current coalition — including 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.

Khan al-Ahmar’s Palestinian residents, members of the Jahalin tribe, say they arrived in the area in the 1950s after 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.

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.

But 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.

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