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Lapid requests delay in contentious demolition of West Bank Bedouin village

Foreign minister says new government needs time to study in-depth the issue of razing Khan al-Ahmar, which has ‘legal and international consequences’

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)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sent a request on Sunday to Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo and Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit asking for a further delay of the impending demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village in the West Bank that Israel says was built illegally.

Lapid wrote that the new government has only recently taken office, and “has not yet had time to examine the issue in depth independently and without relying on the conclusions of the previous government.”

Therefore, he wrote, noting that the demolition is a particularly “sensitive issue,” the government is requesting more time “to examine the necessary conditions for the evacuation of the outpost and to conduct a significant and in-depth inquiry of all the legal and international consequences of the move.”

In 2018, the Supreme Court approved the demolition of the village, which is located not far from Ma’aleh 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 serious of continuous delays in the demolition.

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 — have criticized Netanyahu over his failure to carry out the demolition.

In December 2019, now Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman mocked Netanyahu for not demolishing the village out of fears it would trigger an investigation by the International Criminal Court. “I call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to get it together, to stop with the political spin and to stop looking for excuses not to do something, and to make an immediate decision to evict Khan al-Ahmar,” Liberman wrote at the time.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett at a conference of the Srugim news site above the West Bank Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The state says the structures, mostly makeshift shacks and tents, were built without 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 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.

Last year, the right-wing NGO Regavim petitioned the High Court to force the government to move forward with the demolition. The government responded in November by once again requesting several more months to examine the situation and to better prepare for the demolition.

In response to Lapid’s letter on Sunday, Regavim accused Bennett of walking back his campaign promises and capitulating to Lapid.

“Lapid’s announcement is a political move intended to signal to Bennett and his partners that none of their election promises can be fulfilled,” the organization said in a statement. “Not in the Negev, not in the Galilee, and not in Khan al-Ahmar.” Regavim called on Bennett “to show who’s in charge. We call on you to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar immediately!”

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