Residents of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank received evacuation orders on Sunday, informing them they must leave voluntarily within a week, by October 1.
The Civil Administration in the West Bank, which distributed the orders, said they were handed out according to the instructions of the High Court of Justice to grant the residents a reasonable period of time to allow them to leave on their own.
In early September, the High Court of Justice denied a petition filed by the residents of Khan al-Ahmar and gave the state the green light to evacuate the entire village. The community was built on state-owned land and its houses were constructed without permits.
Despite the orders being distributed, residents said they do not intend to leave voluntarily, partly because of pressure from the Palestinian Authority to stay put. Some of the residents who are expected to be evacuated said they intend on returning to the site afterwards.
The Civil Administration said that distributing the orders does not mean the evacuation will be carried out on October 1, and an evacuation date has yet to be set. Security forces paved access roads to the community a few months ago to allow heavy equipment to reach the site, and also placed metal gates around the village that can be closed during the evacuation to prevent vehicles from entering the area.
Khan al-Ahmar, which is located near Route 1, is home to several dozen families from the Jahalin tribe. The tribe originated in the Negev and was expelled to the West Bank in the 1950s. Aerial photographs and testimony by villagers show that the residents wandered within the Jerusalem-Jericho region before gradually establishing permanent residence in Khan al-Ahmar, apparently in or around the 1970s.
Since the 1970s, residents have built and lived in tin shacks and fixed tents of the type that require heavy machinery to demolish. The village never received any planning permission, even though members of the Jahalin tribe have been living in the area since before the Six-Day War. While the lands on which the village was constructed are defined as state lands today, the area was expropriated from Palestinian residents of Anata. The Civil Administration issued demolition orders against the illegal structures, orders which the High Court of Justice upheld this month after a prolonged legal battle.
Although the High Court ruled that no proof of ownership was established between the residents and the village lands, the state could retroactively legalize construction in the village as it has done for Jewish outposts in the area, that were also built without permits.
Khan al-Ahmar has become a symbol of Bedouin settlement in the region. There are a number of other similar villages of members of the same tribe nearby. One of the reasons the community has become an international symbol is the Tire School, a more durable structure, established with European support. The school houses a number of classrooms and is used by children from Khan al-Ahmar and other nearby communities.
The plan to demolish the village has aroused international protest, including from the European Union, which has asked Israel to rescind the decision to evacuate the village. The European Union’s foreign policy representative, Federica Mogherini, has said that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar would endanger the prospect of a two-state solution and carry severe humanitarian implications, as well as violating Israel’s commitments under international law. In July, five large EU countries - Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain - filed a joint diplomatic protest asking to freeze the demolitions. Ireland has condemned the plan as well.
The secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee, Saeb Erekat, said the Palestinian leadership had turned to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and asked to open proceedings against Israel because of the intentions to evacuate the community. The Palestinian foreign ministry also attacked the decision and called for international intervention.
After the evacuation, the government is expected to house the residents in the Jahalin West site near Al-Eizariya, a Palestinian village not far from the current site, but whose residents are in a feud with the Khan al-Ahmar population. Previously, the state offered to resettle the village residents at another site located between the sewage treatment plant in the vicinity of Mitzpeh Yeriho and the Abu Dis garbage dump. It is not clear if this offer is still on the table.
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