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Khan Al-Ahmar’s Drawn-out Demolition Highlights Deep Political Impasse

The small West Bank village is at the center of an international political storm

Less than 30 miles (45 km.) west of Jerusalem, in the part of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civilian control, lies the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar. In May, Israel’s Supreme Court issued a ruling confirming the legality of the village’s demolition and, by extension, the forced relocation of its 180 residents.

Since then, the court has, in response to international pressure and local petitions, ordered on numerous separate occasions to freeze and then continue with the plan. Recently, a final decision was made to give the residents of Khan al-Ahmar until the end of last month to evacuate the village so that the demolition could commence on October 1.

The move has generated a fierce backlash from Palestinians, human rights activists and international observers. On Monday, thousands of protesters responded to a call by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to thwart the demolition by converging on the village. They claim that the area, in the words of one local who asked to remain anonymous, “isn’t even Israeli land, and that [Israel] has no right to require the permits [to build here].”

Global leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel have also piled on the criticism. Merkel, who arrived in Israel Wednesday evening for a 24-hour visit, was set to raise the contentious issue in talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Her position is shared by the United Nations and many Western countries that consider the prospective destruction of Khan al-Ahmar a violation of international law, with the European Union Parliament in Brussels going so far as to call it a war crime.

Still others argue that the Bedouin community was constructed without proper authorization and thus believe the court’s decision is a big step in the right direction. The initial case proposing the demolition was brought to Israel’s Supreme Court by Regavim, a local non-governmental organization focused on preventing the unsanctioned use of land.

Naomi Kahn, a Regavim spokesperson, maintains that the construction of the village is “illegal,and not at all coincidental,” and therefore Israel should affirm its unwillingness to countenance foreign interference in its internal affairs.

“The Bedouin were placed there carefully and strategically by the Palestinians, as part of a plan to create a de facto Palestinian State,” she opined to The Media Line.

Regavim and organizations like it view the existence of the village, which regularly is visited by representatives of the PA, as a security risk.

Brian Reeves, Director of Development and External Relations at Peace Now, an NGO that promotes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told The Media Line that “it is a grim irony that less than 10 km. [6 miles] from Khan al-Ahmar is a recently established, expanding, and illegal Israeli settlement while Khan al-Ahmar, almost stagnant in population growth since its establishment in the late 1960s, is being threatened.”

The village has nevertheless always lacked running water and waste removal facilities, with locals and their supporters purporting that Israel has withheld these services to encourage residents to relocate. Complicating matters is that over the past few months nearby Jewish communities reportedly have diverted sewage and wastewater towards the Bedouin town.

“This is disgusting,” the Kahn al-Ahmar resident asserted to The Media Line. “There are 22 other Bedouin communities in the area and [Israel] is sneakily planning to cleanse them all. Orders have already been issued,” he claimed.

Israel has invested millions of dollars to prepare plots of land for the displaced residents in nearby Abu Dis. But the Bedouin have rejected the relocation proposal because they fear that conflict could erupt with neighboring communities and because they consider the site’s proximity to a dump a health hazard.

Moreover, advocates suggest that students of Kahn al-Ahmar’s school—established and run by an Italian NGO and which serves the surrounding population—will have no place to learn once the facility is demolished.

The political implications are also bound to be far-reaching, placing Israel in the difficult position of choosing either to defend what it sees as its sovereign rights in the West Bank or acquiesce to international pressure and allow the village to stand.

(Victor Cabrera is a student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)