As authorities prepare for the imminent demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, police detectives have been calling up activists to warn them against carrying out “illegal” activities during the razing of the central West Bank Palestinian hamlet.
On Thursday, Guy Hircefeld from the Ta’ayush rights group tweeted a recording of a phone call he had received a day before in which a detective warned him that “any action, speech, or behavior that violates the law in the context [of the Khan al-Ahmar demolition] is forbidden.”
The officer can be heard beginning the conversation by clarifying that Hircefeld is under no obligation to speak with him.
After being warned, the left-wing activist asks whether there was a reason that he was chosen in particular. The detective responds that “there is a reason” but declines to elaborate, only saying that Hircefeld is not under investigation.
“When you take off your uniform at night, think about this conversation, and remember that we are living in a democracy,” Hircefeld tells the detective.
The activist goes on to call it “unfortunate” that police are trying “to show me that Big Brother is watching… I got the message.”
He scolds the officer for treating him like a “criminal” and for threatening him.
The detective responds, “Heaven forbid, this is not a threat.”
“You called a citizen who has not broken any laws and warned him not to talk or open his mouth,” the activist responds.
Hircefeld told The Times of Israel Thursday that he knew of three Palestinians who have received similar phone calls over recent days. While he was unsure if additional Israelis were targeted, Hircefeld said it was likely that some are reluctant to share having received such warnings due to fear of punishment.
A spokesman for the Israel Police did not respond to The Times of Israel’s requests for comment.
The left-wing activist’s recording elicited rebuke from members on the other side of the political spectrum, who criticized Israeli authorities for violating Hircefeld’s privacy.
“The farce of Khan al-Ahmar should have been finished long ago, but this kind of silencing is shameful and disgusting,” tweeted Avraham Binyamin, a spokesman for the right-wing Regavim NGO.
Late last month, the Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body that regulates construction in the parts of the West Bank fully controlled by Israel — 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.
More than two weeks have passed since then and Khan al-Ahmar still stands, but residents as well as a number of defense officials have told The Times of Israel that they are expecting the razing to take place this week, if not within the next 24 hours.
Nonetheless, a spokeswoman for the Civil Administration said that plans are still being finalized and that no date has been set for the demolition.
In May, the High Court of Justice allowed the state to move forward with its plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, which was established illegally without building permits.
Attorneys representing the villagers filed several appeals, attempting to cancel or at least delay the razing. Last month, the High Court rejected a final appeal from Khan al-Ahmar residents, and authorities have since been preparing to flatten the hamlet and transfer the residents several miles east near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, in a move that has drawn international condemnation of Israel.
The relocation site is hooked up to water, electricity and sewage and has a school to replace the current Italian-funded institution, which is made of falafel oil and mud-caked tires and has become a symbol for the village.
But residents of Khan al-Ahmar — 180 in number, according to the UN — 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 have argued that they submitted a building plan outline to the Civil Administration, but that it was never considered by the Defense Ministry body nor the High Court before it green-lighted Khan al-Ahmar’s razing.