Middle East Eye / January 23, 2023
Fate of the strategically situated Khan al-Ahmar hangs in balance as Israel’s coalition government looks to expel Palestinians.
Israeli parliamentarians on Monday called for the country’s far-right government to demolish and forcefully evict Palestinians living in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank.
Dozens of Palestinians gathered to protest in Khan al-Ahmar following rumours that Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir would be visiting the village.
Earlier, two parliamentarians, Yuli Edelstein and Danny Danon, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, showed up in Khan al-Ahmar to press the government to expel the Palestinians.
“This fascist government is moving so quickly with their attempt to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the Jordan Valley,” said Jamal Juma, a coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign who had joined the protest.
The residents of Khan al-Ahmar are from the Jahalin tribe, a Bedouin family expelled from the Naqab desert – also referred to as the Negev – during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The latest expulsion attempts threaten to make them refugees once more.
The destruction of Khan al-Ahmar would represent a precedent to the demolition of 24 other similar communities in the region covering an area of 12,000 dunum (1,200 hectares), warned Juma.
“This is a huge area we are talking about. It would mean the extension of Jerusalem to the east and towards the Palestinian city of Jericho,” Juma told Middle East Eye.
“Moreover, the cleansing of Palestinians from this area would cut off the West Bank in that area at the widest possible point between the north and the middle and the south.”
It would also mean that any future contiguous Palestinian state would become almost impossible.
The fate of Khan al-Ahmar has been on the line since 2018 when the Israeli Supreme Court gave the green light for the Palestinian village to be demolished.
In two weeks, the Israeli government must explain to the country’s highest court why it hasn’t permanently removed the Palestinians living there.
“This is part of an attempt to isolate the Palestinian community, blocking them from their best areas. The destruction of these villages is also part of the policy of taking over the Jordan Valley,” said Juma.
Tensions within the Israeli government
Pressure to demolish Khan al-Ahmar also exposed tensions within Netanyahu’s new ruling coalition when an illegal Israeli settlement, Or Chaim, in the northern occupied West Bank was dismantled for the second time in three days over the weekend.
The Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, of the Likud party, who ordered the evacuation, was backed by Netanyahu. In response, Ben-Gvir demanded that Khan al-Ahmar must also be demolished.
Over the weekend, Ben-Gvir said Netanyahu’s government “will not hold Jews to one legal standard and Arabs to another”, drawing an equivalence between the Israeli settlers removed from their illegal outpost and the Palestinians living in Khan al-Ahmar.
Khan al-Ahmar, which has been demolished and rebuilt several times in recent years, is in the West Bank, near the illegal Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, and close to Route 1, a highway that connects occupied East Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley.
“Now that these far-right settlers are in power, they are moving much faster with their colonial project. I think they want to use this opportunity while the world is distracted with the war in Ukraine and the bad internal situation of the Palestinians to push their agenda,” said Juma.
Blocking Palestinian statehood
In 2018, following the Israeli Supreme Court’s ruling, the embassies of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom warned that demolishing Khan al-Ahmar, located strategically in Area C, which Israel administers, would have negative implications on the future Palestinian state.
In a joint statement with the European Union, the embassies called on Israel: “Not to go ahead with its plan to demolish the village – including its school – and displace its residents.”
“The consequences a demolition and displacement would have on the residents of this community, including their children, as well as on the prospects of the two-state solution would be very serious,” the statement said.
While previous Israeli governments followed the same strategy towards Khan al-Ahmar, they did not want to provoke the international community, they wanted to move slower, said Juma.
“This government, however, doesn’t give a shit,” he added.
“The plan is to get Palestinians in area C and send them to areas A and B. They want to isolate Palestinians and place them in ghettos. This is the intensification of the colonial project.”
Speaking at Khan al-Ahmar, Yuli Edelstein, who serves as the chairman of the Knesset’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, said Monday that “my message from here to Netanyahu and to the new government is no more excuses and the High Court can no longer be blamed” for the government’s failure to empty the village.
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 Maale Adumim with East Jerusalem in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.
Critics say the E1 plan would effectively split the West Bank in half if fully implemented.
“They are killing any possibility for any Palestinian identity and state. They are openly talking about Israel, the Jordan river to the sea,” added Juma.
Elis Gjevori is a journalist based in Istanbul