Saturday, May 26, 2018

Discussion on forcible transfer of Al Khan Al Ahmar bedouins turns from “if” to “how”


By Annelies Verbeek - April 26, 2018
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Section: [Main News] [Videos] [Features]
Tags: [Bedouin] [forced transfer] [Israeli Supreme Court] [E1] [Settlement Expansion]

On the morning of April 25, Israel’s Supreme Court held the final hearing on the proposed demolition of the Bedouin village of Al Khan Al Ahmar near Jerusalem, as well as the forcible transfer of its inhabitants. 

The case of Al Khan Al Ahmar is important, as the village holds a community school that serves approximately 160 children in the area. The school was constructed out of mud and tires, with the funding of the Italian government. According to Defense of Children International Palestine, it is the only school in the area, and the closest alternative is 45 minutes by car.
 
The case of the small bedouin village is especially important due to the highly political character and repercussions the ruling could have on the future of the 'two- state solution.’ It has extended over more than nine years, first entering the court in 2009.
 
The case will be ruled by three Supreme Court judges. The center judge, Noam Solberg, lives in the illegal settlement block of Gush Etzion. Another one of the judges, Yael Vilner, was also an ideological settler in the past, and nominee of the extreme right Israeli Minister of Justice Ayalet Shaked.
 
The latest session was held to rule on a petition by settler organisation Regavim that called for the state to carry out ta long standing demolition order on the village, as well as a petition filed by the bedouins to ask for the state’s recognition of their houses.
 
The Supreme Court has ruled several times that if the state demolishes the bedouin structures, it should foresee an alternative. The alternative the Israeli state has proposed consists of apartment buildings built in Jabal West, an area between the Palestinian towns Abu Dis and Al Eizariya.
 
According to the Bedouins, this solution is not suitable. The apartments are built in close proximity to a landfill, and do not constitute a healthy living environment. Moreover, moving to these apartments would mean giving up their traditional herding lifestyle. UNRWA Director of Operations Scott Anderson echoed this saying; “it is well documented in previous instances that the transfer of Bedouin communities into urban settings is socially and economically non-viable.”
 
The village is built in Area C of the West Bank, which falls under complete Israeli administrative and military control. The village is surrounded by the settlements of Kfar Adumim and Maale Adumim. Area C covers 60% of the West Bank, and while all Israeli settlements are built in this area, it is virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits there.
 
Moreover, the village is built in the area that falls under the E1-plan put forward by Israeli authorities in 2012. This seeks to expand urban Jerusalem to the East, by building settlements outside the city’s border to create a united block. This is of strategic importance, as it could divide the West Bank in a Northern part and a Southern part, effectively ending any possibility for a future Palestinian state in the West Bank.
 
The forcible transfer of this Bedouin community to apartment buildings is of great importance as it could set a precedent for the state to transfer other Bedouin communities in the area.
 
The lawyer defending the settler’s organisation Regavim told Palestine Monitor there is “no doubt that the Palestinian structures are illegal and should be demolished.” The settlers’ organisation argued for immediate demolition regardless of whether there is an alternative for the bedouins or not.
 
Remarkably, the court case also included a group of settlers who claimed to be on the Bedouins’ side. They are from the adjacent settlement of Kfar Adumim. The settlers did not argue against forced transfer, but wanted to pressure the state to foresee more viable solutions for the Bedouins to live. A representative of the group told Palestine Monitor that the state’s solution of housing the Bedouins in Jabal West was “absolutely impossible.”
 
The court proposed for the state to foresee more viable alternatives than the area of Jabal West. After adjourning, the state categorically rejected the court’s proposal, and claimed it will not designate other areas for the Bedouins to live than the apartments near the garbage dump.
 
Shlomo Lecker, the lawyer defending the Bedouin community, told Palestine Monitor that he was arguing for the solution that entails the least damage. “Everything that has been happening for the last 30 - 40 years is in breach of the Geneva Convention, but the Israeli court does not follow the Geneva Convention. We did not come to the court to make statements, but to find the best solution.”
 
He was hereby saying that he did not use the argument that transfer of civilian population into occupied territory is prohibited under the Geneva Convention, and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal. This would mean that the Israeli state has little right to discuss legality of indigenous Palestinian structures in the West Bank.
 
The legality of forcible transfer was not at the center of the discussion in court. The discussion mainly revolved around which location the bedouins would be moved to.
 
This was the last hearing on the fate of the Bedouin community of Al Khan Al Ahmar. The judges will render their ruling in one week.
 
The Palestine Monitor went to the location of the Al Khan Al Ahmar village to gauge the reaction of its inhabitants. Mahmoud Odeh Mohammad Jahalin told the Palestine Monitor that the Israelis have threatened the village with demolition since decades, but the actual demolitions only started in 2009.
 
When asked about alternative locations, he answered that the Israelis will always try to make offers to push bedouins out of the area. “But I was born here, and I grew up here. I was here before the settlement. I will stay here. I am not hurting anyone, so I don’t care about their offers.”
 
He was pessimistic about the court hearing: “I don’t have much hope or faith in the Israeli court. I don’t think they will ever rule in the Bedouin’s favour.”
According to Jahalin, the Bedouin’s plan either way is to stay. “If they want to move us, we will oppose them with everything we have; our people, our children our sheep. We will not move.”

 

Lead photo: "Bedouin community representatives wait for the all-Hebrew court case on the fate of their village to commence."

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