Bedouin Villagers Reject Israel's Relocation Offer, Leaving Its Future to High Court

Lawyers for residents of Khan al-Ahmar noted that 40% of one proposed site can’t be built on due to its proximity to a sewage facility

The school in Khan al-Ahmar, July 2018.
Emil Salman

The residents’ committee of a West Bank Bedouin village Israeli authorities plan to raze has rejected a state relocation offer. The response was submitted Thursday to the High Court of Justice by lawyers representing the residents of Khan al-Ahmar. Immediately after the state made its offer, last week, the lawyers said their clients would reject it.

The government offered to establish a new village in a site near the Mitzpeh Yeriho settlement if the inhabitants of Khan al-Ahmar as well as a number of small Bedouin encampments in the area agreed to move there.

In their response to the court, the lawyers noted that the proposed site was adjacent to a sewage treatment plant near Jericho, as a result of which construction was prohibited on around 40 percent of the land.

The residents repeated their request that the court allow them to remain in Khan al-Amar and order the government to legalize the community. The village was built on state-owned land without authorization. They argued that a previous High Court ruling permitting its evacuation does not prevent the court from moving to block it.

In fact, in light of the residents’ rejection of the state’s offer, they will probably be evicted despite the justices’ call for the parties to reach a negotiated solution. The High Court has previously allowed such action and the court has ruled in this case too that the issue is not whether the residents will be evacuated, but when and to where.

During the hearing, the government again proposed that the residents leave willingly in return for a new permanent community, but after the rejection of the state’s proposal, the justices are expected to hand down a final ruling in the case.

Dozens of Bedouin families from the Jahalin tribe moved from the Negev in the 1950s to Khan al-Ahmar. The government never authorized the establishment of the town and it is now proposing that its residents move to a site near Al-Eizariya, not far from Khan al-Ahmar. The designated site is between a garbage dump and an auto scrapyard.

In May, after a long legal battle, the High Court ruled the state could legally evacuate Khan al-Ahmar. Following the filing of an appeal, in July the court suspended the demolition order. Two weeks ago, the justices reiterated that the residents will have to move and that the only issue is where they would be going and urged the parties to come to agreement on that question.