Protests after Israeli threats to remove Palestinian village

AJ Staff

Al-Jazeera  /  January 23, 2023

Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank lies in a corridor that Israel plans to use to link illegal Israeli settlements.

Dozens of Palestinians have protested against threats made by top Israeli politicians to imminently carry out the forced displacement of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, home to at least 180 people.

The protest took place on Monday after far-right politician and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir said he would push ahead with the village’s forced removal and plans emerged of a visit to the site by far-right ministers, including Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

A number of politicians from the Israeli parliament’s biggest party, Likud, eventually did gather near the village before later leaving.

Ben-Gvir on Saturday said the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “will not hold Jews to one legal standard and Arabs to another” after an illegal Jewish settlement outpost in the northern occupied West Bank was cleared by Israeli forces.

However, Palestinians have decried what they argue is the false equivalency between Khan al-Ahmar and Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.

“Since 1967, there have been military orders for demolishing homes, closed military zones and others, and then these areas are transformed into illegal settlements and nature reserves,” Eid Jahalin, who described himself as a spokesperson for the village, said at Monday’s protest.

“Our fate is to remain in this area,” Jahalin argued. “Whoever thinks that it is just Khan al-Ahmar – there are demolitions in the Jordan Valley, demolitions in Masafer Yatta, in Jerusalem city – it is something constantly happening across all of Palestine.”

The fate of Khan al-Ahmar has captured international attention for its years-long legal battle with Israeli authorities over its survival.

In September 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court greenlit the village’s removal, leaving it open to being demolished at any time, but demolition plans have been put on hold several times since then.

The government has until February 1 to explain to the Supreme Court why the village has not been demolished yet and to put forward a plan.

The Israeli government said the village was “built without a permit”, but authorities make it extremely difficult for Palestinians to obtain building permits in occupied East Jerusalem and in what’s known as Area C, which covers more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank. Palestinians and human rights organizations say the policy is part of a larger Israeli strategy to strengthen and maintain a Jewish demographic majority in the area.

The forcible transfer of protected people in occupied territory is classified as a war crime under international law.

Amnesty International has previously called efforts to remove the residents of Khan al-Ahmar as “not only heartless and discriminatory [but also] illegal”.

“The forcible transfer of the Khan al-Ahmar community amounts to a war crime,” Amnesty said in 2018. “Israel must end its policy of destroying Palestinians’ homes and livelihoods to make way for settlements.”

Khan al-Ahmar is located in the West Bank, a few kilometres from Jerusalem and between two major illegal Israeli settlements, Ma’ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim.

It lies along a key corridor stretching to the Jordan Valley where Israel aims to expand and link settlements, effectively cutting the West Bank into two.

“Our main message is to the Palestinian leadership: … If this village is uprooted. we will have the northern West Bank and the southern West Bank,” Jahalin said. “This is the importance of Khan al-Ahmar.”

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Maarouf Rifai, the legal adviser for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, said the PA would not allow the village to be demolished.

“This is Palestinian land. It is private Palestinian land,” he said. “There is no excuse for the Israeli government, other than to develop the ‘Greater Jerusalem’ plan and to link the settlements surrounding East Jerusalem in order to clear this area from Palestinian Arabs. We are here to raise our voices to say that we will not allow this to happen.”

Since its occupation of the West Bank began in 1967, Israel has forcibly evicted and displaced entire communities and demolished more than 50,000 Palestinian homes and structures, according to Amnesty International.

Another Palestinian community – a collection of villages known as Masafer Yatta, home to more than 1,000 Palestinians near Hebron in the southern West Bank – is also facing imminent forced displacement by the Israeli government.

Palestinian activist Khairy Hanoun, who was at the protest at Khan al-Ahmar, said, “We came here to challenge Ben-Gvir’s decision and the decisions of all of the right-wing government.”

“We came here to tell them, you demolished our villages, you demolished our cities and our homes, but you will not demolish our perseverance,” he told Al Jazeera.

Using the example of al-Araqib, a village that was demolished and rebuilt 211 times, Hanoun said: “If you demolish Khan al-Ahmar, even if you demolish it 100 times, we will keep rebuilding it.”