UN protests after High Court okays razing Bedouin village

Envoy warns that demolition of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank is a violation of international law; Palestinian Authority calls measure ‘ethnic cleansing’

A boy walks through the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, near the Jerusalem-Dead Sea highway, on  April 13, 2018. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)
A boy walks through the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, near the Jerusalem-Dead Sea highway, on April 13, 2018. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned Wednesday that the razing of a Bedouin village in the West Bank is a violation of international law and would blunt efforts to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

His comments came after the High Court of Justice cleared the way for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, rejecting a final appeal in a case that has drawn international criticism.

Mladenov said the planned demolition of the village “undermine[s] prospect for two-state solution and is against international law.”

He noted the UN has previously called on Israel “to cease demolition of Palestinian property and efforts to relocate Bedouin communities in the West Bank” and linked to a UN Security Council briefing from August 22 on the situation in the Middle East which mentioned, among other things, Khan al-Ahmar.

The Palestinian Authority said the demolition plans amounted to “ethnic cleansing.”

In its ruling, which was in response to a petition from residents of Khan al-Ahmar, the High Court said an order preventing the village’s demolition will be lifted in seven days, allowing it to take place as soon as next week.

There has been strong international pressure on Israel to reverse its plans to raze the village, which Israeli authorities say was built illegally. Sitting east of Jerusalem, the village is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.

Khan al-Ahmar’s demolition had already been approved by the court in May, which the judges noted in their decision Wednesday.

“The main petition is an effort to reopen a conclusive ruling, and this reason is enough to reject it out of hand,” they ruled.

The judges also rejected the petitioners’ request to delay Khan al-Ahmar’s demolition until an alternative site is found for its residents.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov attends a press conference at the (UNSCO) offices in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)

Tawfiq Jabareen, one of the lawyers representing Khan al-Ahmar residents in the petitions, said the court “was following Israel’s right-wing government” in its ruling, which he said was “legally wrong.”

“It is not based on legal arguments and contradicts past supreme court rulings,” he told AFP. “This is unfortunately what the government wants, and the court doesn’t want to intervene.”

Jabareen said there were currently no understandings between the state and residents on a voluntary relocation.

Residents of the village have opposed the state’s plan to relocate them near a garbage dump belonging to the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, as well an another proposal that would have moved them to a site east of the Mitzpe Jericho settlement.

The High Court froze the planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar in July when it agreed to hear the residents’ petition.

In the beginning of that month, the state had begun its preparations to raze the hamlet, where none of the structures have been granted permits. Security forces were deployed to the village and construction workers began paving an access road that would facilitate the demolition and evacuation.

Tawfiq Jabareen, center, one of the lawyers representing Khan al-Ahmar residents speaks during a press conference after the High Court of Justice upheld an order to raze the Bedouin village in the West Bank, September 5, 2018. (Thomas Coes/AFP)

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.

But the villagers — who have lived at the site, then controlled 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 Khan Al-Ahmar, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union in July expressed their support of the village, and the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Jamie McGoldrick, condemned the Israeli demolition order.

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 contiguous Israeli control from Jerusalem almost to the Dead Sea, a move critics say will bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible

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