Khan al-Ahmar: Palestinian community faces threat of demolition

Any structure built by Palestinians in Area C is considered illegal by the Israeli government and subject to demolition.

Khan al-Ahmar
The Itarat School, which services around 200 children from Khan al-Ahmar and surrounding Bedouin communities, faces demolition by Israeli authorities [Shatha Hammad/Al Jazeera]

On the last day of school before the summer holidays begin, the children of the Palestinian Jahalin Bedouin community in the Khan al-Ahmar area gather in the playground of the Itarat School for what is possibly their very last time.

Located a few kilometres east of Jerusalem, the Jahalin community of Khan al-Ahmar have been slapped with a demolition order of their school by the Israeli authorities.

The move follows a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court last week, ruling the school should be demolished because it was built without any proper building permits.

The community is located under Area C, which under the 1993 Oslo Accords is classified as being under Israeli civil and security control. As a result, it is impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits for any construction.

Thus any structure built by Palestinians in Area C, which covers 61 percent of the occupied West Bank, is considered illegal by the Israeli government and subject to demolition.

The ‘Tyre’ school

The school offers its services to around 200 children from Khan al-Ahmar and surrounding Bedouin communities.

It was built with the help of Italian NGO Terra di Vento back in 2009, and is constructed from mud and rubber tyres, hence its name- the Tyre School.

It lacks basic facilities such as electricity, telephone, water lines, labs and a canteen.

Halima a-Zahuyqa, the principle since 2011, told Al Jazeera that the faculty members and children are gripped with concern over the school’s fate.

“The students think about this a lot, which affects their school performance and mental state,” she said.

The fear of the school’s demolition is not anything new to the students and teachers.

Zuhayqa found that the Israeli army had regularly raided the school during the presence of students to hand over demolition orders and notices.

Mohammed Mahmoud Dahouk, one of the school’s students, said, “The Israeli forces invade the school and our homes constantly and threaten us with demolition,

“They always pin the demolition orders on the walls of the school and the houses.”

Before the Itarat School was built, male students had no choice but to go to school in the city of Jericho, some 17km away. Illiteracy among girls was high, as they were kept within the confines of the community.

Mohammad Dahouk wants to be an Arabic teacher at the Itarat School, but his education could come at an abrupt stop if his school is destroyed by Israeli forces [Shatha Hammad/Al Jazeera]
Mohammad Dahouk wants to be an Arabic teacher at the Itarat School, but his education could come at an abrupt stop if his school is destroyed by Israeli forces [Shatha Hammad/Al Jazeera]

Mohammed faces going back to Jericho if his school is demolished. However, his family’s reliance on sheep grazing as a livelihood may prevent him from completing his education.

The 14-year-old has a passion for Arabic literature and dreams of becoming an Arabic language teacher at the Itarat School.

“Even if they demolish the school, we will come back and study sitting on the ground,” he said.

Children should have the right to education, and not have the only school they know destroyed, Zuhayqa said.

“Facilities and supplies need to be added in order to enable children to develop their skills and abilities,” she added.

35 families under threat of displacement

The Jahalin community is originally from Tel Arad in the Naqab, but were expelled by the Israeli army in the 1950s.

The community, which today numbers 180, or 35 families, were twice more displaced before settling in the current location.

Nearby looms the Jewish-only settlement of Kfar Adumim, which had submitted four petitions to the Israeli High Court urging the implementation of demolition orders against Khan al-Ahmar.

According to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, 26 homes and six non-residential structures were demolished by Israeli authorities between 2006 and 2017.

Eid Khamis, the spokesperson for Khan al-Ahmar’s Bedouin community, said that the decision to demolish Palestinian buildings in Area C is no less important than the decision to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“This decision means annexing more Palestinian land to Jewish settlements in the vicinity of Jerusalem, after displacing Palestinians from them,” he told Al Jazeera.

The West Bank is witnessing a massive intensification of settlement construction, especially in the area around Jerusalem – the sole objective of, Palestinians say, isolating it from other Palestinian cities and preventing them from reaching it.

Khamis explained that the Israeli authorities are seeking to annex all the Bedouin communities to Al-Eizariya, a town in East Jerusalem, which falls on the West Bank side of the Separation Wall

Each family would be allocated an area of 250sq metres. However, the Jahalin have rejected the decision.

“Even if they demolish all our homes and forcibly move us to Eizariya, we will return here again and we will remain steadfast in the simplest means in our hands,” Khamis said.

Military order for Area C demolishment

A military order was issued by the Israeli Civil Administration on April 16, giving the green light to demolish new sites under construction in Area C, if they are not completed within six months of the issuance of the order.

The military order will take effect on June 16, two months after it was signed off.

A statement by the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) said that the order comes within the policy of forced displacement adopted by the Israeli authorities.

The order grants Palestinians 96 hours to object in Israeli courts immediately after the decision is issued against them to provide proof that the structure is licensed or approved by the Israeli Civil Administration, the statement said.

Yet these “legal objections” will not protect the structures from demolition because Israeli authorities “sweepingly reject” the applications of Palestinians for building permits, the statement added.

Furthermore, most of the Palestinian villages are located in Area B – under Palestinian government civil control but Israeli security rule – and expansions of any master plan would extend inevitably to Area C.

On the opposite spectrum, expansions for Israeli settlements is granted freely. On May 30, the ICA approved the construction of 92 homes for Kfar Adumim, just one kilometre from Khan al-Ahmar.

Bassam Karajah, a lawyer from the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights told Al Jazeera that the military decision provides legal cover for construction and settlement expansion in Area C, and warned of serious repercussions.

Karajah said that the granting of powers to the military governor means that the high selectivity will be exercised in choosing the areas where the Palestinian buildings will be demolished.

“The first victims of this decision are expected to be the Bedouin communities, stressing that the decision will include all buildings, whether inhabited or non-inhabited,” Karajah said.

Source: Al Jazeera