Likud MKs call on government to evacuate Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar immediately

Edelstein and Danon visit contentious Palestinian hamlet, as coalition tensions simmer over evacuation of illegal Israeli outpost in northern West Bank

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Likud MK's Yuli Edelstein and Danny Danon visit the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK's Yuli Edelstein and Danny Danon visit the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MKs Yuli Edelstein and Danny Danon, visiting the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on Monday, called on the government to evacuate the site as quickly as possible.

Just under 200 Palestinians live in the hamlet, which is located on state land east of Jerusalem, near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. The lawmakers’ visit comes less than two weeks before the state is required to report to the High Court of Justice about its efforts to evacuate it.

“My message from here to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and to the new government is [that there can be] no more excuses and the High Court can no longer be blamed” for the government’s failure to empty the village, said Edelstein, who serves as the chairman of the Knesset’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“Khan al-Ahmar must be evacuated now, the sooner the better.”

Dannon made similar comments, warning against “selective enforcement” of construction violations.

The day before Danon and Edelstein’s visit, the illegal Israeli settlement outpost Or Chaim in the northern West Bank was evacuated for the second time in three days. The move created tensions within the coalition between Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of Likud, who ordered the evacuation and was backed by Netanyahu, and ultra-nationalist parties Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism.

View of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As a result of the evacuation, Otzma Yehudit’s leader, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, demanded in the cabinet that Khan al Ahmar be evacuated too, along with six other structures that he said had been illegally built by Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank , where Israel has full military and civil control.

The left-wing Peace Now organization condemned Danon and Edelstein’s visit as a “provocation,” alleging that it was a “cynical and transparent attempt to inflame the territory” and prevent the evacuation of illegal Israeli settlement outposts.

“There is no symmetry between the occupier and the occupied, and the equation between local Palestinians who have been living in the area since the 1950s and settlers working to expel them lacks any moral foundation and is designed to prevent any chance of a future diplomatic agreement,” Peace Now said in response to the MKs’ visit. The group called on the government to legalize Khan al-Ahmar.

The legal battle of Khan al-Ahmar’s residents to avoid the demolition of their encampment and relocation to a new site has gained the backing of prominent rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which have warned that forcibly moving the residents would amount to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In October last year, the High Court granted the government a four-month extension, until February, to respond to a petition by the right-wing Regavim organization as to why the village had not yet been evacuated.

The extension, issued after the government had fallen, was the last in a series of postponements that have prevented evacuation of the site since 2018, when the High Court granted the state’s request to evacuate the encampment and relocate the residents.

Palestinian wave flags during a demonstration at the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar over Israel’s plans to demolish it, on October 19, 2018. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The state says the structures at Khan al-Ahmar, 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, when it was under Jordanian rule, after already having been displaced during the 1948 War of Independence. They recount having practiced 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. Yet the community today remains small, numbering less than 200 residents.

Regavim and other right-wing groups say the aerial photos are proof that the village was only built recently, weakening the Bedouin claims to the land, and claim further that the Palestinian Authority deliberately sent the residents there to take over strategic West Bank land.

Regavim guided Danon and Edelstein on their tour of the site on Monday, which was in part designed to persuade the MKs not to support a plan proposed by former defense minister Benny Gantz to relocate the residents of Khan al-Ahmar to a place very close to the current site.

Regavim director Meir Deutsch said that “the new government must prove to the public that elected it that it is a true right-wing, nationalist government and put the campaign for Area C at the top of its agenda, with the question of Khan al-Ahmar being not if but when it will be evacuated.”

The organization said that Gantz’s alternative site lacks infrastructure and occupies what it “a strategically crucial area.”

“The state has already invested approximately NIS 80 million of Israeli taxpayers’ money in a normal, logical alternative site, where it has prepared infrastructure, roads, electricity, water, sewage, a health clinic and school — on state land just outside Abu Dis, where the the Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar would be contiguous with the other half of their own tribe and have full access both to PA-controlled Jerusalem neighborhoods and to their places of employment and livelihood in the Israeli communities,” Regavim added.

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