State asks High Court for further delay in razing of West Bank Bedouin village

Government files request to put off Khan al-Ahmar demolition by another six months

Illustrative. The Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative. The Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government filed a request with the High Court of Justice on Sunday to delay by six months the planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village in the West Bank that Israel says was constructed illegally.

The state told the court that it wants more time because “significant progress has been made” in formulating an “agreed outline for the implementation of the demolition orders in the complex matter.”

The state asked that it be permitted to present a confidential document to the court containing details of the framework.

On Monday morning, the High Court said it would provide the government with one week in which to present the court with the confidential document.

A Saturday night statement from the Foreign Ministry — which announced the plan to request the delay — said the request was “based on interagency staff work that includes a diplomatic opinion of the Foreign Ministry.”

Meir Deutsch, director of the pro-settlement Regavim group, slammed the government’s response as fomenting anarchy.

“It can’t be that there is a group of the population who enjoy immunity from law enforcement because of international pressure, when at the same time the law is enforced against another group,” Deutsch said.

In July, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sent a request for a further delay to the attorney general and cabinet secretary, saying the new government needed more time to study the matter.

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.

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

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.

Khan al-Ahmar’s Palestinian residents, members of the Jahalin tribe, say they arrived in the area in the 1950s after being displaced during the 1948 war. They recount practicing 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. The community today remains small, numbering less than 200 residents.

Right-wing Israeli groups say that the aerial photos are proof that the village was only recently built, weakening their claim to the land. They further claim that the Palestinian Authority deliberately sent the residents there to take over strategic West Bank land.

Palestinians and left-wing groups reject that argument, saying the community’s presence predates the PA.

The villagers 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, Regavim petitioned the High Court to force the previous 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.

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