Likely transfer of entire Bedouin town ‘unprecedented’
Palestinian community of Khan al-Ahmar pessimistic over upcoming verdict by Israel’s top court on forced eviction case.
An entire village consisting of more than 40 Palestinian Bedouin families will be forcibly removed if an Israeli Supreme Court ruling is successfully implemented.
Residents of Khan al-Ahmar village, situated near occupied East Jerusalem, are now preparing to fight the upcoming court decision, which they say is likely to be inherently “biased”.
Last February, residents of the village received a demolition order. Earlier this month, they received a verbal notice from the Israeli forces about the state’s plan to transfer them, according to the village’s leader, Eid Abu Khamees. He says the village has been struggling to maintain its existence since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, and annexed East Jerusalem later that year.
The village, inhabited by the Jahalin tribe, has since become encircled with politically influential Jewish settlements – Maale Adumim to the east, and Kfar Adumim to the west.
“The village became like a prison, encircled and trapped,” Khamees told Al Jazeera.
“Bedouins rely on their herds and on their animals for wealth, and with this encirclement, we no longer have the needed distance or area for our cattle to graze,” the 52-year-old explained.
Israeli Rights group, B’Tselem, say that the forcible transfer of an entire Palestinian community in the occupied territories would be “virtually unprecedented” since 1967.
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Particularly during the last few years, with the separation wall blocking access to Jerusalem’s Old City, village residents faced dire economic impacts, Khamees said.
“Every year, Bedouins here sell more and more of their cattle for money just to stay afloat … Bedouins in East Jerusalem are no longer able to sell their produce in the markets,” Khamees added.
The court hearing, scheduled for September 25, will see two cases; a petition filed by the community’s lawyer against the demolition order, while the second is a court case filed by settler movements calling for the destruction of the village’s only school to more than 150 children.
The community’s lawyer described the current situation as “critical”, and the political climate unprecedented. The decision to transfer the community comes three weeks after Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s defence minister, disclosed to local media the state’s plan to move forward with the eviction of the Khan al-Ahmar community last month.
Lieberman said that the West Bank village of Susya would also face eviction orders in the coming weeks.
Al-Haq, a prominent human rights NGO based in Ramallah, said the main objective behind the targeting of Khan al-Ahmar is to push Palestinians out the area.
“The goal behind demolitions and other measures in Khan al-Ahmar, Susya and the rest of the occupied West Bank aim at creating a coercive environment to force Palestinians to leave and replace them with Israeli settlers,” Al-Haq researcher Tahseen Elayyan, told Al Jazeera.
This would ultimately link the village to the adjacent Maale Adumim settlement and would render the area as part of East Jerusalem.
Area C of the West Bank, which comprises Khan al-Ahmar and other Palestinian villages, is under total Israeli administrative and military control. It includes all of the 125 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, housing more than 300,000 settlers. Settlements are considered illegal under international law.
Although the area covers more than 60 percent of Palestinian territory, less than five percent of the Palestinian population live there, facing severe restrictions on planning, construction and access to resources such as water.
According to Al-Haq, in 2016 alone Israeli forces demolished 575 structures on the basis that they lacked necessary construction licenses – a 73 percent increase compared with 2015. Of those, more than 300 were houses sheltering some 1,600 people, now forcibly displaced.
And since the beginning of 2017, Israeli forces demolished 116 structures, including 64 homes, displacing some 347 people.
Shlomo Lecker, the lawyer who has been working with the Jahalin tribe since 2009, told Al Jazeera that several pro-settler Israeli NGOs have filed petitions to the state over the years regarding “illegal structures”, claiming they lack the necessary building permits.
But residents say these construction permits are impossible to obtain.
“The situation has never been so bad because of the political developments,” said Lecker, who is an independent lawyer based in West Jerusalem.
“Now they [the state] is going to declare that the school will be removed,” he explained, referencing the latest political developments.
READ MORE: Palestinian Bedouins ‘live the Nakba every day’
Pro-settler movements have a history in aiding the Israeli government in forcibly evicting Palestinian communities and demolishing Palestinian-owned homes.
Regavim, a Zionist NGO as stipulated on the group’s website, has worked since 2012 in conjunction with the state, in monitoring the construction activities inside Palestinian villages and towns in East Jerusalem.
The group, says Khamees, monitors his tribe and are the reason behind his people’s plight.
“They monitor us day and night, making sure not a single new unit is built in our village,” he said.
According to their website, Regavim works “to recruit officials and state resources to act on the principles of Zionism … contacting authorities responsible for land management and law enforcement demanding that they take all necessary legal measures to halt and demolish the illegal construction.”
Israel had previously hoped to relocate the Jahalin tribe to the Palestinian village of Nuwei’ma in the Jordan Valley, but according to Khamees, the land was confiscated territory, offered to them at “the expense of another Palestinian” population.
“Of course, all parties rejected this proposal,” said Khamees.
“Now they want to move us to the West Bank town of al-Eizariya. They also confiscated a section of land there and told us that this was their solution,” he added.
The area in al-Eizariya is largely closed off and does not adhere to the Bedouin culture and way of life, residents say, who compared it to “Guantanamo prison”.
Residents of al-Eizariya, says Khamees, are refusing to give up their land.
“They are the rightful owners and will not give them up to anyone – not to Bedouins, not to a Palestinian, not to an Israeli, not to anyone at all,” he said – an argument that has been included in the form of a statement from al-Eizariya’s residents.
Meanwhile, in a letter addressed to the Israeli government on September 4, B’Tselem pointed out that if the eviction and forcible transfer of the communities of Khan al-Ahmar and Susya were successfully implemented the actions would amount to war crimes under international law.
Al Jazeera reached out to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an Israeli military body that administers parts of the West Bank, for comment on the matter but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Both Lecker and Khamees share similar reservations about the court’s anticipated decision.
“The declaration by the minister of defence, he knows what the state can do – otherwise he cannot make such an announcement – it seems that this time they are pretty sure that they will do it [demolish the two villages],” said Lecker, who added that a best-case scenario would be a delay in the court’s decision.
Khamees is particularly pessimistic since, according to him, a settler will judge the upcoming hearing.
“The decision of demolition will be announced in a hearing where the judge himself is a settler, basing his ruling on an occupying power’s laws,” he said. “So I expect the September 25 ruling to be a harsh, dangerous one.”
“If the judge is one of them, then who do you complain to?”