Israel’s top court approves demolition of Palestinian Bedouin village

Israel defies international pressure to reverse its plans to raze Khan al-Ahmar village in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank
Wednesday 05/09/2018
Palestinian boys sit in the Bedouin village of al-Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, last July. (Reuters)
Palestinian boys sit in the Bedouin village of al-Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, last July. (Reuters)

LONDON – Israel’s top court on Wednesday upheld an order to raze a Palestinian Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank, after debating petitions challenging the decision.

There has been strong international pressure on Israel to reverse its plans to raze Khan al-Ahmar, which the Israeli authorities say was built illegally.

“We reject the petitions” against the directive to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, the supreme court panel said in its ruling, adding that a temporary order preventing the razing of the village during court hearings “will be cancelled within seven days from today.”

It will now be down to the authorities to decide when to carry out the demolition after the restriction order ends.

The present village consists mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is generally the case with Bedouin sites.

In May, the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against its demolition after nine years of hearings before various tribunals.

The court said Khan al-Ahmar residents had rejected proposals by the state regarding the site of their relocation, and expressed hope “the dialogue” would continue.

Activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits that are almost never issued to Palestinians in the large parts of the West Bank where Israel has full control over civil affairs.

Tawfiq Jabareen, one of the lawyers representing Khan al-Ahmar residents in the petitions, said the court “was following Israel’s rightwing government” in its ruling, which he said was “legally wrong”.

“It is not based on legal arguments and contradicts past supreme court rulings,” he told AFP. “This is unfortunately what the government wants, and the court doesn’t want to intervene.”

Jabareen said there were currently no understandings between the state and residents on a voluntary relocation.

“I’ve never seen someone who’s being expelled and whose house is being destroyed sitting idly by,” he said.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who oversees the occupation of the West Bank, praised the judges for their decision in the face of “the coordinated attack of hypocrisy by (Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas), the left and European states.”

“Nobody is above the law, nobody will keep us from acting on our sovereignty and responsibility as a state,” he said.

The fate of Khan al-Ahmar has drawn heavy international attention, with the United Nations and others expressing grave concern, and has become a rallying cry for the Palestinians, whose leaders have gathered there to protest its planned demolition.

The village is in the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C, which remains under exclusive Israeli military control. The area is home to dozens of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law because they are built on occupied territories. Israel places severe restrictions on Palestinian development there and home demolitions are not unusual.

As part of interim peace deals in the 1990s, the West Bank was carved up into autonomous and semi-autonomous Palestinian areas, known as Areas A and B, and Area C, which is home to some 400,000 Israeli settlers.

Map of the West Bank locating the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar (AFP)
Map of the West Bank locating the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar (AFP)

The Palestinians say that Area C, home to an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Palestinians, is crucial to the economic development of their future state.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office has called on Israel to abandon its plans and said the destruction of private property by an occupying power violates international law.

The West Bank’s Arab Bedouin are a small, impoverished minority among the broader Palestinian population. Like many other Bedouin encampments, residents of Khan al-Ahmar live in corrugated shacks or tents, often without electricity or running water, and raise livestock.

The Palestinian ministry of education recently decided to start the schoolyear early for 170 elementary students in Khan al-Ahmar and four nearby Bedouin communities to try and pre-empt any Israeli move.

Ayman Odeh, head of the United Arab List in Israel’s parliament, said on Twitter the villagers had “fallen victim to the destructive policies of a rightist government that is broadening settlement blocs at the cost of Arab communities”.

Israel closes sole people crossing with Gaza 

The Israeli army said Wednesday it was closing its sole crossing for people with the Gaza Strip following a violent demonstration the previous day, just 10 days after it reopened it.

“Yesterday, a violent riot was instigated in the area of the Erez crossing, with the participation of hundreds of Palestinian rioters,” the army said in a statement.

“Subsequently, it was decided to close the Erez crossing until the damage caused by the rioters will be repaired.”

Palestinian protesters run through tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a demonstration at the Erez crossing with Israel on September 4. (AFP)
Palestinian protesters run through tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a demonstration at the Erez crossing with Israel on September 4. (AFP)

The Palestinians were protesting against a US announcement on Friday that it would cease all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) which helps some three million needy refugees.

Washington, which until last year was by far the biggest contributor to the UNRWA, had already plunged the nearly 70-year-old agency into financial crisis in January with its announcement of a $300 million funding freeze.

In Gaza, most children attend UNRWA-run schools whose funding beyond the end of this month is now in doubt, along with that of the agency’s network of clinics and food distribution centres.

The army said Tuesday’s protesters had damaged the infrastructure of the crossing with rocks thrown from the Gaza side.

It said it would remain open for “individually approved humanitarian cases”.

Egyptian and United Nations officials have been mediating indirect negotiations on a long-term truce between Israel and Gaza’s rulers Hamas.

(Arab Weekly and news agencies)