Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reassured his Likud faction Monday that the central West Bank Bedouin hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar will be razed “very soon.”
But as was the case last week, when Netanyahu told his cabinet that the Palestinian village would be demolished “very soon” and that preparations were underway, the prime minister refused to place an exact time on the operation.
A defense official who spoke with The Times of Israel following Netanyahu’s Monday remarks said that no plans were currently in the works to flatten the village, which is home to roughly 180 people.
The High Court of Justice ruled in May to allow the state to move forward with its plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, which was established illegally without building permits.
Last month, Netanyahu’s office announced that the planned evacuation would be delayed indefinitely amid new talks between the government and the ramshackle village’s residents. The delay drew angry responses from both Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers, who have demanded the clearing of the hamlet, which would make way for the expansion of the neighboring Kfar Adumim settlement.
The decision to delay came after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned ministers that a forced evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar could compromise the Israeli position vis-a-vis Palestinian claims against the Jewish state at the International Criminal Court.
Despite the stated goal of the delay, Khan al-Ahmar villagers have said that government officials have yet to propose an alternative plan on which they might negotiate. Then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman’s office said earlier this month that the state would not negotiate with the hamlet’s attorney because he was salaried by the Palestinian Authority. The lawyer, Tawfiq Jabareen has since resigned from his posting, but no progress has been made in the talks.
In an effort to salvage their village, the residents have submitted a master plan to the Civil Administration and they are demanding that it be reviewed prior to the demolition. However, an official in the Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction said that the ruling from the High Court was the final say on the matter.
Netanyahu and other ministers have asserted both before and after the October delay that the demolition is not a matter of if, but when.
The bulldozing of Khan al-Ahmar had appeared imminent last month, when police called activists to warn them against carrying out “illegal” activities during the razing of the hamlet.
Already in September, the Civil Administration warned residents that if they did not pack up their things and demolish all structures by October 1, Israeli authorities would do so for them.
Attorneys representing the villagers filed several appeals, attempting to cancel or at least delay the razing. In September, the High Court rejected what was believed to be a final appeal from Khan al-Ahmar residents, ahead of the flattening of the hamlet and transfer of its residents several miles east near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis — a move that has drawn international condemnation of Israel.
That relocation site is hooked up to water, electricity and sewage and has a school to replace the current Italian-funded institution, which constructed from of falafel oil and mud-caked tires and has become a symbol for the village.
But residents have vehemently opposed moving there, saying that they were never consulted, the location is unsuitable for their rural way of life and is next to a garbage dump, and residents of Abu Dis have warned them to stay away.
They have similarly been uninterested in a second relocation site proposed to them by the state two months ago adjacent to the nearby settlement of Mitzpe Jericho as well as to a sewage treatment facility.
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 where Khan al-Ahmar lies, where Israel exerts 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 Israeli control from Jerusalem almost to the Dead Sea, a move critics say will bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
Israel argues that the village was built illegally and its homes are dangerously close to a highway, and emphasizes that the demolition has been approved by the country’s independent courts.