Razing of West Bank Bedouin hamlet halted by Israeli court

Israel planned to demolish Khan al-Ahmar and transfer 181 residents to toxic landfill

Protesters wave Palestinian flags as they demonstrate against Israel at the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar on July 6th, 2018. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty

Israel’s high court has suspended the planned demolition of the West Bank Bedouin hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar, a tiny settlement that has become a flashpoint between Israeli authorities and Palestinians, as well as a subject of protest by the international community.

Hours before Khan al-Ahmar was due to be razed, the high court gave the authorities until July 11th to challenge the petition against the demolition and forcible transfer of 181 residents to a toxic landfill near Abu Dis village in the Jerusalem area.

The move amounted to an abrupt, if temporary, suspension of the court’s ruling in May that the military could proceed.

The UN and member states have demanded that Israel spare Khan al-Ahmar. The UN warned that displacing pastoral communities would have "serious human rights and humanitarian law consequences". The EU said it "expects the Israeli authorities to reverse these decisions".

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Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that "international humanitarian law clearly prohibits the destruction of private property and the forcible transfer of the population of an occupied territory".

Ramshackle shelters

On Friday, scores of Palestinians from across the West Bank attended Muslim prayers in Khan al-Ahmar, a collection of ramshackle shelters made of wood, tin and plastic, pens for goats and sheep, and a school. Activists, including members of Rabbis for Human Rights, protested against Israel’s plan to demolish the hamlet.

The court acted on a submission by lawyer Alaa Mahajna on behalf of residents, arguing that Israel's administration never considered legalising the hamlet or considering a plan submitted by the community. The land is claimed by residents of the nearby village of Anata, although it was expropriated, illegally under international law, by Israel in 1975.

Israel insists the hamlet is illegal and its residents – desperately poor herders from the Jahalin tribe expelled by Israel from the Negev in 1950 – have built without planning permission. The Jahalin survive on rations and services from the UN agency providing for Palestinian refugees.

Khan al-Ahmar and other Bedouin communities have been under threat for years as Israel plans to expand adjacent settlements Maaleh Adumim and Kafr Adumim.

Diplomats blocked

On Thursday, as bulldozers began to build an approach road to the hamlet, diplomats from Ireland, Britain, Italy, Spain, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland and the EU were blocked by the Israel army from visiting the elementary school which has been funded by several European countries.

The school has become an icon of Jahalin resistance. The only solid structure in Khan al-Ahmar, it was built in 2009 of 2,000 discarded tyres plastered with clay by local men under the guidance of Italy’s Vento di Terra (Wind of Earth). The elegant buildings housing five classrooms attracted media attention and the school was exhibited in 2012 at the XII Venice Biennial of Architecture.

At present the school has 160 pupils from five of the 46 Bedouin communities slated for demolition and transfer.

On Wednesday, 15 residents and activists were arrested and 35 injured by Israeli troops while demonstrating at Khan al-Ahmar.

The hamlet takes its name “Khan al-Ahmar”, the Red Inn, after a pilgrim hostelry built on the site in the 13th century.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times