State says Khan al-Ahmar won’t be evacuated before new government formed

Attorneys give statement to High Court, in response to right-wing NGO’s petition demanding Bedouin village built without permits be razed

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

The government is delaying the evacuation and demolition of a Bedouin hamlet in the central West Bank until at least after the formation of the next government.

The High Court of Justice on Friday accepted the state’s position that it could not move forward with razing the village of Khan al-Ahmar while there is no permanent government.

The state was responding to a petition by a right-wing NGO that demanded the government fulfill its stated plan to demolish the village.

Negotiations to form a new coalition following last month’s general election are ongoing.

Last May, the Supreme Court ruled to green light the state’s plans to demolish the central West Bank Palestinian village, which was built without the necessary permits.

However, following intense international pressure, the government pushed off its plans in order to attempt to reach an agreement with the roughly 180 residents, where they would agree to leave on their own.

Nearly a year has passed and negotiations have failed to bear fruit. Being behind the initial petitions calling for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, the Regavim NGO has once again appealed to the High Court after an unsuccessful months-long public campaign urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep his word.

The razing of Khan al-Ahmar, which was built without the necessary permits, has been a key concern for many settlers as well as others in the broader Israeli right, who have criticized the government for carrying out demolitions at the Netiv Ha’avot and Amona outposts while allowing the Palestinian hamlet to remain standing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives a mandate to form a government, April 17, 2019. (GPO screenshot)

But contrary to the cases of the Israeli outposts, which were ruled to have been built on private Palestinian land, Khan al-Ahmar was established on land belonging to the neighboring Palestinian village of Anata, whose residents allowed the Bedouin to reside there, despite the lack of permits.

The villagers — who have lived at the site since the 1950s (then controlled by Jordan) 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 where Israel exerts full control over civilian affairs — such as the site where Khan al-Ahmar lies.

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.

Regavim’s petition highlighted several public statements made by the prime minister in which he assured that the Palestinian village would be flattened.

“It will be evacuated, with or without consent. It will not take many weeks, it will be much shorter [than that]. A number of vital preparations were made in the international arena and a last chance was given, but in any event, Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated,” Netanyahu told his cabinet in October.

The following month, he told ministers, “Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated very soon… This is our policy, and it will be implemented. I have no intention of postponing this until further notice, contrary to what’s being published, but for [it to be carried out] in a short time.”

Palestinians 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)

At any rate, it is unclear what authority the High Court has over the demolition of the hamlet, as its decision last May ruled to green light the state’s plan if it chooses to carry it out.

Once the hamlet is demolished, residents are 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.

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. They also say residents of Abu Dis have warned them to stay away.

They have similarly objected to a second relocation site proposed to them by the state which sits adjacent to the settlement of Mitzpe Jericho, as well as a sewage treatment facility.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report

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