Israel's High Court of Justice on Wednesday approved a state request to postpone a hearing on the petition to evacuate the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar by six months, urging Israel to come to a decision on the contested village soon after years of "inaction and feet-dragging."
Justice Sohlberg noted in his ruling that Israel has been stalling on its decision regarding the Bedouin village for more than a decade, something the state "cannot agree to."
“The state is not consistent in its arguments and does not follow through with its statements,” Sohlberg said. “There is no doubt the day nears when we can no longer come to terms with the petition’s inconclusiveness… It cannot be stretched to infinity.”
The new date the court set for the hearing is March 6, 2022. “We expect that by then, we shall be presented with a clear decision, after exploring all options,” Sohlberg said.
Earlier this month, the High Court called the request to postpone the hearing "embarrassing," ruling that they would delay the hearing by only two months, and saying they would not approve any further delays – which they did in their Wednesday decision.
Israel justified its call for postponement based on the ongoing coronavirus crisis and "in consideration of the current diplomatic-security situation."
The petition was filed by the right-wing NGO Regavim, requesting that the government set a date for the village's evacuation, and was approved by the court two years ago. The hearing was set for September 30 and the state was required to respond to the court 30 days prior.
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Regavim responded to the High Court's ruling Wednesday, charging that Israel's procrastination is "part of the problem."
"Procrastination will not conceal a simple demand: the State of Israel must fight the Palestinian takeover in Judea and Samaria," Regavim director Meir Deutsch said, adding that Khan al-Ahmar "was and is the test case" for the future of the West Bank.
The human rights organization Friends of the Jahalin also responded, saying "It is a pity that the court granted another extension and did not outright reject the petition that violates the values of equality. It is time to find a fair and agreed-upon solution. A solution for the benefit of the Bedouin, and no less for the benefit of Israeli society."
Sohlberg wrote in his ruling earlier this month that "two years have elapsed and nothing at all is new. Even though the state's attorneys argued that implementing the state's decision was urgent, and repeatedly received court permission for such implementation, nothing has changed," He added that the court could not accept a request for a 6-month postponement.
The state’s request, accompanied by an affidavit by National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, notes that the current cabinet was established only in May, following a prolonged political crisis. “The new government began its tenure on the backdrop of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, with all the ramifications for its operations and the attention given to this important national task. Under these circumstances, and in light of the diplomatic-security situation, the respondents need more time in order to allow elected officials to address this issue in a thorough manner,” says the affidavit.
The request notes that the decision to implement the demolition of houses built illegally in Khan al-Ahmar still stands. However, the state says that the timing of the eviction must be at the government's discretion, “with the honorable court intervening only in exceptional circumstances.”
Wednesday's High Court decision marks the sixth round of petitions regarding the evacuation of the village, beginning in 2009 when Israel issued demolition orders against buildings in the compound. Since then, petitions have been submitted to the court by various stakeholders seeking to enforce the demolitions, as well as residents calling for their annulment. The High Court routinely rejects these petitions per the government's request that it decide on eviction matters.
In September 2018, the European Parliament warned Israel that demolishing and transferring Khan al-Ahmar would a breach of international humanitarian law under the Geneva Convention.
Khan al-Ahmar lies close to Highway 1, near the settlement of Kfar Adumim. Dozens of Bedouin families from the Jahalin tribe live there. They were expelled from the Negev after the state was established and moved to this area, living in temporary structures.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly committed to evacuate the village. In an interview to TV Channel 12 a year and a half ago, he said that the evacuation would take place "very soon." Last year, with the ongoing political crisis, the state told the court that the evacuation would be postponed until a new government was formed.