The final days of Khan Al-Ahmar


The countdown has started for the doomed Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar. After Israel's Supreme Court rejected the last appeal against the demolition of the village in the occupied West Bank, it is now just a matter of time, possibly this coming week, before the arrival of the Israeli army accompanied by bulldozers to drive the residents out and tear the village down.

After years of legal battles amid international criticism, Israeli judges ruled that the demolition can go ahead because the Bedouins do not have building permits – but that’s because the Bedouins have no way of getting permits. The Israeli military refuses the vast majority of Palestinian building requests, thus leaving the Palestinians with little option except to build without permission.

That does not mean Khan Al-Ahmar is not Palestinian. It is a Palestinian Bedouin village; always was, always will be. Its demolition order is not because of the claim of its illegality; that’s an Israeli fig leaf. The real story is that it is located in or next to an area near East Jerusalem slated by Israel for illegal Jewish settlement construction. Israel intends to demolish the village as part of the so-called E1 plan, which involves building hundreds of settlement units to link the settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim while cutting off Palestinian access to Jerusalem.

Make no mistake. Even though Khan Al-Ahmar has only about 180 residents living in shacks, its razing will be a defining moment in the history of the occupation. This could be the first time Israel forcibly transfers a Palestinian community by making conditions so dreadful for its inhabitants that they eventually move of their own accord. For years Israel has refused to connect the community to the electric grid, water supplies and roads, and has repeatedly demolished structures. The village suffers constant harassment at the hands of the Israeli authorities, making life there unbearable with a view to making residents leave, ostensibly of their own volition. Because of Khan Al-Ahmar’s steadfastness, its people refused to budge. Consequently, the Israeli authorities had to come up with a legal pretense for the demise of the village.

So Khan Al-Ahmar’s modest appearance belies its significance as the keystone of the Palestinian struggle for statehood. Removing the village is part of a broader push to annex the West Bank. This is not just a violation of international humanitarian law but a breach that constitutes a war crime. Other than for the security of the population or imperative military reasons, international humanitarian law prohibits the transfer of the population of an occupied territory without the genuinely and fully informed consent of the affected people, according to the UN.

This will mean a significant change in the occupation as Israel moves to a policy of forcibly transferring other communities. What has befallen the people of Khan Al-Ahmar is planned for other Palestinian towns and villages. Thousands more Palestinians are set to be thrown off their land to enable Israel to impose yet more settlements. If this is allowed to happen, then Israel will have snubbed justice, human rights and international law. Israeli authorities say they have offered the villagers an alternative site, but the panoramic view is of a garbage dump.

Israeli leaders congratulated the judges for approving the forced displacement of the people of Khan Al-Ahmar. But the Israeli government should be held accountable for this decision. Demolition and transfer are a war crime for which Israel's government and military leadership will bear primary responsibility, along with the judges who authorized it.

The years-long legal battle for Khan Al-Ahmar is coming to an end. Despite the moral warnings issued by human rights organizations and hundreds of public figures around the world, the village will be swept away to become yet another casualty of the occupation.