Bedouin Near Ramallah Face Double-edged Sword by Israeli Settlers

Settlers file petition seeking a court order requiring IDF, Civil Administration to explain why Bedouin school has not yet been demolished.

The new school year will open on Sunday at Palestinian schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip including the Bedouin school in the village of Khan al-Ahmar near Jerusalem. But the nearby Jewish settlement of Kfar Adumim seeks to have the school, which has attracted attention around the world because it is made of tires and mud, demolished.

Kfar Adumim and its satellite settlements of Shchunat Alon and Nofei Prat filed a petition on August 1 seeking a court order that would require the Israel Defense Forces and the IDF Civil Administration to explain why the school had not already been demolished in accordance with an order by the Civil Administration in the summer of 2009.

Valerio Marazzi - Alex Levac - 02092011
Alex Levac

The petitioners also take the law enforcement authorities to task for not preventing improvements at the school including the planting of trees and the installation of playground equipment and a perimeter fence with a gate.

The settlements had previously petitioned the High Court of Justice in an effort to tear down the school and other structures and tents that the Bedouin - members of the Jahalin tribe - had put up. The initial petition was filed by Regavim, an organization that seeks to "protect the nation's lands and assets."

The new petition was filed by a lawyer representing the three settlements, Yitzhak Mina, who in January became the deputy chairman of the public council of the Ometz good government organization. As with the previous petition, the recent court filing was preceded by demands that the Civil Administration carry out the demolition orders.

After Israel occupied the West Bank, Bedouin communities were not included in master plans. So the Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar, who were evicted by Israel from the Negev in 1948, had no administrative procedure with which they could apply for construction permits for housing and public buildings.

When the initial case was filed with the High Court of Justice in September 2009, the State Prosecutor's Office asked the court to dismiss the petition on the grounds that the court should not intervene in setting priorities for the Civil Administration.

In its preliminary response to the new petition, however, the state voiced no objection to the settlements' intervention in the authorities' work. It asked for a 45-day extension to file a response, saying it was considering setting a date for a possible demolition to take place.

According to the state, the demolition of public structures requires the approval of high-level government officials, and this approval process is still underway. The state took exception to the settlements' contention that the Bedouin school is on state land within Kfar Adumim's boundaries. The school was built on land that had been in private Palestinian hands and was expropriated for the widening of Route 1.

The residents of Khan al-Ahmar are represented in the new case by Shlomo Lecker, a Jerusalem lawyer who in 2009 filed a legal action to prevent the demolition order at the school from being carried out.

The petition was denied in March of last year, but the High Court of Justice ordered that the demolition not take place before the end of the school year in June 2010.

The court's decision was based on assurances by the Civil Administration that the administration was looking at other legal alternatives for housing for the Jahalin Bedouin in Khan al-Ahmar. As long as such alternatives do not exist, Lecker says, the school cannot be demolished.