Khan Al-Ahmar residents need the world’s support

Khan Al-Ahmar residents need the world’s support

Khan Al-Ahmar residents need the world’s support
The West Bank Bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar. (AP)
Short Url

It is ironic that at this very moment, when Israel’s ultra-right-wing government is assaulting one of the foundations of the democratic system — that of checks and balances — the Supreme Court, which is regarded as the country’s last bastion of human rights and individual liberties, is proving not to be the fortress of justice it should be when it comes to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Instead, it has become a rubber stamp for the abuse of their most fundamental human rights.
Earlier this month, this court, sitting in its capacity as the High Court of Justice, the highest instance of appeal, reprimanded the government’s recent request for yet another delay, the ninth in total, in carrying out the court’s order to evict the residents of what it has ruled as the illegal Khan Al-Ahmar Bedouin village in the West Bank.
In this case, not only did the highest court in the land make no effort to stop what might be regarded as a war crime but, in complete contravention of international law, not to mention natural justice, it has ordered the government to go ahead with it.
A few years ago, on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, together with peace and human rights activists, I visited the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar, who gave us a beautiful welcome and were keen for us to hear their story of hardship and turbulence, of being threatened with eviction and being harassed by settlers.
Khan Al-Ahmar is a tiny community of about 200 people from 38 families of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, located in the rolling hills of the West Bank east of Jerusalem. They pose no threat to anyone, but face both the might of the Israeli military and the unscrupulous hunger of Israeli settlers for more land. The village sits on a mere 40 dunams (about 40,000 square meters) of land near the settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim. Its people, who live in tents and makeshift shacks, as well as caravans funded by the EU that include a school, are some of the poorest in the West Bank.
The Jahalin have had more than their fair share of suffering from the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before the 1948 war, they lived in the area of Tel Arad in the Negev desert, which is located in present-day Israel, but in the aftermath of that war the Israeli military forced them to move out of their villages and across the ceasefire border into the West Bank. This is where they remain, making a living — although sadly not much of one — from grazing their cattle, while harming no one.
In the case of Khan Al-Ahmar, the Israeli government wants to have its cake and eat it too. It is talking tough about evacuating Palestinians from Area C, the part of the West Bank that is under direct and complete Israeli control, but it has been delaying such a move indefinitely because of justified international outrage. However, it tied itself in political and legal knots when the right-wing nongovernmental organization Regavim entered the fray.
One of Regavim’s founders is the present ultra-rightist minister Bezalel Smotrich, which tells us all we need to know about its true intentions. It wants to force the government, through the High Court of Justice, to operationalize its decision to evict the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar. Regavim claims that it is motivated by a wish to uphold the law, which is rich coming from a movement of illegal settlers. If charity begins at home, it should instead be monitoring the situation to ensure that their fellow settlers stop grabbing land that does not belong to them; not to mention taking action to stop their violent assaults on its people.

The highest court in Israel has ordered the government to go ahead with what might be regarded as a war crime.

Yossi Mekelberg

Regavim has managed to extract from the judges a rebuke of the government for continuing to delay the removal of this village, while giving permission for the authorities to further delay the evictions for only two months, not the four they usually request. This is a sad reflection of the kind of (in)justice Palestinians can expect from Israel’s courts. Disturbingly, organizations such as Regavim, together with their messianic, warmongering allies in government, have set a low moral bar for the treatment of Palestinians and are dragging the entire country down with them.
In the bigger picture of a cruel occupation that is insensitive to human suffering, the case of Khan Al-Ahmar, although not an isolated one, stands out because it symbolizes the arbitrary nature of Israel’s control of the life of ordinary Palestinians, with no compassion and with complete impunity. This muscle-flexing by one of the most powerful military forces in the world against one of the poorest and most powerless Palestinian communities in the West Bank is nothing short of a disgrace.
Furthermore, it is particularly shameful because it is being perpetrated to allow the expansion of nearby settlements in the E1 area, which is located between Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, and to eventually make it available for annexation. Despite repeated petitions by the local villagers to the Supreme Court to restrain and avert the plan to evict them, the courts have continued to rule against them.
The injustice of the treatment of the Jahalin Bedouins of Khan Al-Ahmar has also led to a rare but very welcome joint response by many in the international community. The heads of mission and representatives from the likes of Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, the EU, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK visited the community last month and released a scathing statement condemning the plan to force the villagers from their homes.
In their statement, they reiterated that: “The demolition of the village and the subsequent eviction of its residents could amount to forcible transfer in violation of Article 49 of Geneva Convention IV.” They added that their visit was an opportunity to remind the Israeli occupying authorities that the international community insists on discouraging it from carrying out “evictions and demolitions (that) cause unnecessary suffering. We urge Israel to cease such actions.”
In the absence of any meaningful peace process and with it any prospect for a comprehensive and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the least that the international community can do is stand fast in criticizing the abuse of power by the Israeli occupiers in their treatment of all Palestinians, especially vulnerable communities such as the people of Khan Al-Ahmar.
Considering the distorted ideology of many members of the current Israeli government, it is only to be expected that there will be even more pressure to evict and demolish similar communities. Hence, all those who believe in justice and the basic tenets of humanity prevailing, both within Israel and beyond its borders, should resist its government’s actions by all legal and diplomatic means.

Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.
Twitter: @YMekelberg

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view