Ethnic cleansing continues
Israel is moving Palestinians into bleak and desolate townships located next to rubbish dumps, writes Tony Greenstein
Khan al-Ahmar is a Palestinian village located between the Israeli settlements of Ma’ale Adumim, a city of nearly 40,000 settlers, and Kfar Adumim, to the east of Jerusalem. About 200 people live there with a school that is attended by about 150 children from around the area. Israel wants to evict the entire population with the aim of creating a continuous belt of settlements from Jerusalem. The West Bank will be divided in two.
The Jahalin Bedouin people of Khan al-Amar were expelled from the Negev in 1952 by the Israeli army and the following year they ended up on the West Bank. In the late 1970s the villagers found themselves incorporated into lands that were assigned to what became the Ma’ale Adumim settlement. The village is one of the only remaining Palestinian areas within the ‘E1 zone’, which is strategically significant because it connects the north and south of the West Bank.
The village has suffered from continual harassment and attacks by the Israeli army and settlers. In 2015, solar panels were donated to provide the village with electricity, but these were confiscated by the ‘Civil Administration’ (run by the military), together with one which had already been in the village for several years.1 Under Israel’s colonial regime Palestinians do not require electricity, it seems. Israel also limits the water supply, so in the hot months they do not have running water every day.
On May 24 this year, Israel’s supreme court unanimously ruled that from June the Israeli army could carry out the demolition and eviction of Khan al-Ahmar, moving the villagers to a different location.2 Justices Noam Solberg, Yael Willner and Anat Baron approved the expulsion of the population and the razing of their homes.
Willner has a brother and sister who live in Kfar Adumim. Nevertheless, she did not offer to recuse herself from hearing the case - the court rejected a request by attorney Shlomo Lecker to that effect. As for Solberg, who presided over the court hearing, he himself is a resident of an illegal Israeli settlement - Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion bloc. Sohlberg wrote that the grounds for deciding to reject the villagers’ petition for a stay in the order was that the residents had unlawfully engaged in building both the school and housing, and that it in any case was not within the court’s remit to meddle in the execution of Israeli state laws.
The reason why the buildings are illegal is because Israel’s colonial administration refused to issue permits for such basic requirements as a school and housing. The supreme court, however, was not interested in asking why permits are not granted to Palestinians - that might come perilously close to examining the legitimacy of the occupation itself. A colonial court such as this can only concern itself with procedural questions. Of course, Israeli settlements are not troubled by such legal niceties, since their authorisation is virtually automatic.
In fact the villagers have been in their current location since before the settlement of Kfar Adumim was established. Despite this, the state refused to include them in the master plans it prepared for the settlers. Consequently, the buildings that the justices deemed illegal were all built without permits.
The role of the supreme court is to put a legal gloss on the occupation. Whenever there is a conflict between Israeli and international law, the former prevails.3 As Hagai El-Ad, director of the Israeli human rights NGO, B’Tselem, noted:
For decades, the supreme court justices have granted legitimacy to practically any injustice that Israel wishes to cause to the Palestinians: demolishing their homes, administrative arrests, revoking residency rights, seizing land, constraining their movement. Still, it isn’t every day that … supreme court justices sign off on rulings on the fate of Palestinian subjects that boil down to approving crimes.4
David Zonsheine, executive director of B’Tselem, explained that Israel had refused to connect the township to water, power and sewerage services, and that the villagers had built without permits because Israeli policy is such that it dissuades Palestinian villagers from even trying to obtain licences for such work - a claim repeated by Human Rights Watch. The effect of the dismantling and evictions, he added, will be to bisect the West Bank from north to south.5
As Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran observed, “They’re destroying Khan al-Ahmar because they didn’t give them building permits.” However, “It turns out that the Israeli government has no problem with issuing permits for this land - just not to Palestinians.”
Demolish and expel
Judge Solberg stated: “The question at stake is not whether the path the state plans meets the requirements of the law, but whether carrying out the demolition orders meets the requirements of the law.” The “inarguable point of departure” was that the buildings in question were “illegal”.
Why the building of a school was illegal was not something that the court was concerned about. But it did note that “the village school doesn’t have a yard that meets standards” and it did not even meet “acoustic standards”! You might ask why the court did not order the owners to install soundproofing or build a yard of sufficient size. But that would be to miss the point entirely. This is Israel and these are Palestinians. The only solution that the court was prepared to agree to was to demolish and expel.
However, every cloud has a silver lining. Even though the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar is going to be demolished and its inhabitants expelled, the Civil Administration is set to approve the construction of 92 buildings in Kfar Adumim, which is less than a mile away from Khan al-Ahmar - for Jewish settlers!6 The plan covers an area of around 30 acres, which in turn is part of a larger plan, comprising 322 new homes, called Nofei Bereishit. This passed the first stage of the approval process in February 2017.
The funds for this development will come from the World Zionist Organisation settlement division. The Jewish Labour Movement, which, as we all know, is terribly concerned about ‘anti-Semitism’, is affiliated to the WZO.7 So, although the JLM is formally a supporter of a two-states solution, it is affiliated to a body responsible for providing funds to build settlements designed to prevent that solution! Such is the hypocrisy of labour Zionism.
The state intends to move the residents of Khan al Ahmar to the village of Al Jabel, an area near the Abu Dis garbage dump that the state has allocated for the permanent settlement of the Jahalin Bedouin - refugees from the Negev who have lived in the area since before 1967. It has already become a slum, but now the shepherds will have to give up their flocks, with the consequent increase in unemployment.
The waste disposal site, the largest in the West Bank, which also serves Ma’ale Adumim, attracts throngs of flies and mice, no doubt symbolising the Israeli authorities’ contempt. The sewage drains frequently overflow and this is one of the residents’ main grievances: if the land had been prepared for construction, why is there no proper sewage system?
In the late 90s, Israel expelled around 150 families from about 10 Bedouin communities and sent them to the new site. One of those families is the Salailas, and Hamda Salaila has spoken passionately about the women’s committee she set up two years ago that meets regularly. She and a few other local women run all the activities, which consist of courses for women, project-management training, and games and tutoring for children.
Now bulldozers from the Civil Administration have flattened a few lots, on which the forced evacuees are supposed to build their own houses. The new plots are very near one another - a tight cluster of houses and families alien to the Bedouin way of life.
Today woman have a lot of free time. In the past they took part in the work - economically, a man couldn’t make it without his wife.
Today the woman is only at home with no work opportunities. The man goes out, works in settlements and doesn’t let his wife go out. If she hasn’t studied, she’s even more a captive in her own house. Once, when we lived in the encampment, women also met and talked to each other. That custom has been lost.
The women now have electricity, running water, and shelter from nature’s hazards. But, deprived of the chance to work for a living, they’ve lost the reason to move around.
“We’re imprisoned at home,” Bedouin women told researchers from the group Bimkom, which last year wrote a report about the expulsion’s negative effect on women at al-Jabal and ’Arab al-Rashayida, south-east of Bethlehem.8 When they must leave home, they wear a niqab - a covering that was not customary when they lived in the open. Twenty years after the forced relocation, most of them have suffered damaged self-esteem.
To make a living, not a few families have split. Some of their members look after the flocks and still live outdoors in tents. Some make a living doing jobs in nearby settlements. But, according to a member of the neighbourhood’s projects committee, Abu Ali Abu Ghalia, unemployment among the men is very high:
Some basic conditions must be kept when you move from a life of herding to an urban environment. A water and electricity infrastructure isn’t enough. You have to give the people training to change their profession so we can live in the new conditions. A man can’t turn overnight from a shepherd into a driver or a teacher.
The new lots are to be allocated at 300 square meters per family - less than what was allocated for the previous waves of expellees. No pasture land has been allotted.
This week Civil Administration employees accompanied by policemen entered Khan al-Ahmar to take measurements. Since the demolition was approved last month, police, army and Civil Administration representatives have been coming to the site periodically to survey the area and the houses to determine the best points of entry for the heavy vehicles and bulldozers. This time, however, the surveying raised concerns that the demolition and eviction were imminent.9
Ahmad Abu Dahuk, a village resident, told the Ha’aretz newspaper that the Civil Administration representatives, accompanied by security personnel, were seen five times at the entrance to the village. The sixth time, he said, they entered the village, walked near the school and counted the sheep. He said the children who were in the school fled in panic.
According to B’Tselem, residents have said that a police officer told them they would be moved by force if they did not leave “willingly”. One villager told Ha’aretz: “We are afraid to sleep, in case they come at night and destroy our homes, and we are afraid when we wake up, in case they come then to destroy them.” But no doubt Sohlberg, Baron and Willner will sleep easily in their beds.
Thus Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians continues apace. After having concentrated the Bedouin in the new township, the next phase will undoubtedly be expulsion from the country altogether.
3. See www.middleeasteye.net/columns/how-israel-s-supreme-court-reinforces-discriminatory-status-quo-1678693361.