Israel Postpones Demolition of West Bank Bedouin Village Amid Coronavirus Crisis

The government tells the High Court, which green-lighted the demolition back in 2018, that it won't evict Khan al-Ahmar until an 'agreeable' outline is formulated

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The village of Khan al-Ahmar, West Bank, July 12, 2018.
The village of Khan al-Ahmar, West Bank, July 12, 2018.Credit: Maya Ben Nissan

The Israeli government said it would not demolish the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the next four months due to the coronavirus pandemic and in order to provide time to develop “an agreeable plan” to relocate the village's Palestinian residents.

Khan al-Ahmar is home to dozens of Bedouin families from the Jahalin tribe who were expelled from the Negev following Israel's inception in 1948.

In 2018, the Israeli High Court of Justice cleared the way for the demolition of the village, with its residents garnering international support, including from the International Criminal Court. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda then said that evicting the village may constitute a war crime and that she would not hesitate to take action if needed.

The government's statement was in response to a petition filed with the High court of Justice last year by the right-wing Israeli NGO Regavim. The petition sought a court order obligating the government to establish a timetable for the village’s eviction.

Regavim is a pro-settler group founded in 2006 by far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich to promote "Israeli sovereignty" in the West Bank. It aims to ensure a “responsible, legal, accountable and environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands and the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land.”

It is not clear what the “agreeable plan” for resettlement the government referred to might contain. In the past, the government offered the Khan al-Ahmar residents an alternative site in the West Bank near the garbage dump of the Palestinian town of Abu Dis. The government later proposed another site near a sewage treatment plant in the vicinity of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Mitzpeh Yeriho. The villagers rejected both offers.

On several occasions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to evicting the village. In November 2018, he went so far as to say that it would happen “very soon.” In 2019, during a period of political instability in Israel and amid repeat elections, the government informed the court that the eviction would be deferred at least until a new government was formed.

In September, the government asked the court to defer hearing the case for six months due to the pandemic and what it described as “the current security-diplomatic timing.” In response, High Court Justice Noam Sohlberg called the request “embarrassing” and while criticizing the government’s conduct, granted a two-month deferral.

Responding to the government’s decision to delay the eviction, Regavim said: “The state’s purported commitment to the enforcement of the law and to engage in dialogue with the residents is not at all different from prior statements to the High Court ... Each time, another card is pulled from the pile of excuses preventing the fulfillment of the state’s declarations. We wonder, has Netanyahu gotten confused between what he can’t and doesn’t want to do?”

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