The Jahalin school opened its doors a week earlier than scheduled, in protest at Israeli orders for its closure.
Khan al-Ahmar, East Jerusalem – A last minute temporary injunction to stop the demolition of the entire community of Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian Bedouin community that has been struggling against an Israeli army order to have their homes demolished, expires on Thursday.
The injunction was granted after objections were filed at the Israeli Civil Administration.
The community’s lawyer told Al Jazeera that he filed an additional objections on Wednesday arguing that the Israel civil administration has not provided an alternative location for the Bedouins to live.
Khan al-Ahmar is near occupied East Jerusalem and is adjacent to the historic road connecting Jerusalem with Jericho. Now, it is in between two Israeli settlements. Maale Adumim to the east and Kfar Adumim to the west.
An impoverished community from decades of restrictive Israeli policy, the Jahalin Bedouin tribe scrambled to take legal action to protect its’ existence in the area. Eid Khamis, a Bedouin leader, said each of the community’s 35 families had to contribute to cover the legal costs.
I brahim Abu Dahouk, 52, a resident of Khan al-Ahmar, says he, as well as other members of the community, had to sell some of their livestock in haste to raise around $3,200 to pay for the injunction against demolitions and for the lawyer’s fee.
“I sold five heads of sheep and we had to beg livestock merchants to buy from us, and you know when you ask them to come, you get a lower price. I sold at a loss,” Abu Dahouk told Al Jazeera.
He added that the community is being stretched to the limit. Selling livestock to cover for legal costs literally means less food and clothes for his family. But he is compelled to sell in order to keep his home.
Bedouins are traditional herders and rely almost solely on goats and sheep for income. In recent years, rising fodder prices has compelled the Bedouin to sell most of their livestock. Israeli settlement expansion, Israeli army camps and nature reserves have also resulted in less and less grazing land.
The Jahalin Bedouin set up camp in this area as early as 1953, long before the two settlements were built. Prior to that, the Jahalin lived in Tel Arad, in the Naqab (Negev) desert. In 1951, after the establishment of Israel , the Israeli army expelled the Jahalin tribe from Tel Arad.
The community has been fighting Israeli demolition orders for years. Khamis says that if a move is a must, then it should be a move back to their homes in Tel Arad, in the Naqab desert.
On February 19, the Israeli army paid a visit to Khan al-Ahmar. To the bewilderment of the community, army officers distributed dozens of stop construction work orders. Khamis confirmed that there was no recent or ongoing construction. During the same visit, an Israeli commander told Khamis, that they had until February 23 to evacuate the area. The community was shaken. They immediately contacted their lawyer and informed him of the developments.
In the course of the past 10 days, UN officials, European Union heads of missions and international NGOs made solidarity visits to the Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar.
Ambassador Ralph Tarraf, EU head of delegation to the occupied West Bank , said on Tuesday from Khan al-Ahmar that he is “worried” about the possibility of demolition and that he, along with other EU diplomats, came to “express hope that the Israeli authorities will not carry out demolition orders”.
“You know this is a particularly sensitive area … it is area C, but it is also called the E1 area and we are particularly concerned that the people living here are going to face displacement.”
When Tarraf was asked by Al Jazeera whether or not the EU was taking the issue of Khan al-Ahmar directly to the Israelis, he responded: “We are talking to the Israeli authorities through our delegations in Tel Aviv and it is not just the European Union, but also member states have taken up the issue with the Israeli authorities and we expressed our hope that this community will not face demolition.”
Robert Piper, UN assistant secretary-general warned last week that the destruction of private property and “potential forcible transfer” is counter to international humanitarian law.
“We are very, very concerned about the events of the last few days [Khan Al Ahmar]. This is illustrative of many communities here in the West Bank, With the coercive pressure that is being forced upon many communities to move, we are very worried about their legal costs. They are getting legal assistance, but they are not getting financial support for that.”
The community’s only school , built in 2009, is also under threat of demolition. The donor-funded school provides basic education to children for nearby Bedouin communities as well. About 160 pupils attend.
Shlomo Lecker, the community’s long-time lawyer, says that he will argue at Israel’s high court that the Israeli Civil Administration has no real alternative for the Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar and that “relocation” is not a real alternative.
The Israeli Civil Administration is under the authority of the Israel defence ministry and is tasked with implementing Israeli government policy in the occupied West Bank.
An internal document prepared by international NGOs, operating in the occupied West Bank, and the UN warns that the “Israeli Civil Administration’s planned ‘relocation’ of Palestinian Bedouin and herding communities in Area C raises serious concerns under international law and must not take place.”
Israel is advancing a plan to “relocate” the Bedouin to Nuwei’ma, in the Jordan Valley. The Jahalin tribe rejected the plan, saying the area near Nuwei’ma is not suitable for Bedouin life because of its close proximity to an Israeli settlement and an Israeli army camp.
The Jahalin also say that the suggested plot of land in Nuwei’ma is too close to the herding ground used by another Bedouin tribe, the Rashayda. The Jahalin warns that forcible transfer to Nuwei’ma means that they will have to share the same resources of water and herding grounds with a different tribe, potentially creating friction with other communities.
The UN and international NGOs warn that the risk of forcible transfer could affect around 7,000 Palestinians living in Area C.