Once Again, Israel Denies the Bedouin What It Grants the Settlers

On Wednesday the High Court will hear petitions against the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, while two Palestinian villages request that the state demolish illegal structures in a nearby settlement

The Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, July 2018.
Emil Salman

Two Palestinian villages, basing their request on Civil Administration data, are asking the Israeli authorities to demolish illegal structures in the settlement of Kfar Adumim and outposts around it. In question are about 120 villas and other buildings in the settlement against which demolition orders have been issued (though, as of the beginning of 2017, at least half the structures had been approved retroactively), and in four outposts.

In the outposts, most of the structures have been built on land defined as state land back in the days of Jordanian rule, and a smaller number have been built on land privately owned by village residents. This past Tuesday, at the Justice Ministry High Court department, Attorney Tawfiq Jabareen filed this request for the villages of Deir Dibwan and Anata, east of Ramallah, as the prelude to petitioning for the villages and some of their residents, owners of private land.

In a preliminary argument, Jabareen talks about Israel’s “selective enforcement” policy. And as a reverse example — of “legalizing” the illegal construction in Kfar Adumim — he mentions the Bedouin village at Khan al-Ahmar, which existed long before the settlements were established and is now threatened by demolition, along with the expulsion of its residents. Before this request, a team of lawyers headed by Jabareen submitted two new petitions on behalf of the residents of Khan al-Ahmar.

The deliberations on these petitions will be held this Wednesday, at a time when Khan al-Ahmar has become a focus of international interest and hosts protest gatherings every day. This comes against the backdrop of European and UN condemnations of the planned demolition and, in general, of Israel’s policy of thwarting Palestinian construction in the West Bank’s Area C, which is under exclusive Israeli control.

Thus, three months before the law comes into effect denying the High Court authority to deliberate on matters concerning West Bank land and techniques for grabbing it from the Palestinians, a team of Palestinian lawyers who are Israeli citizens insists on bringing to the High Court matters of principle concerning discrimination, inequality and government arbitrariness.

Settlements’ concerted action

For its part, Kfar Adumim continues to demand implementation of the decision to demolish Khan al-Ahmar. This past Sunday, the settlement and two of its offshoots — Nofei Prat and Alon — asked to join the Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration as respondents in one of the two new Khan-al Ahmar petitions. This is the petition that asks to oblige the Civil Administration to relate to the detailed master plan recently submitted by the village. On behalf of the three settlements, attorneys Avraham Moshe Segal and Yael Cinnamon asked that the petition be rejected.

A concerted legal and media battle by the three settlements over the past decade, as well as pressure from the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s subcommittee on West Bank affairs, led to the Civil Administration’s decision to demolish the village. During all those years, the previous attorney for the Bedouin village, Shlomo Lecker, managed to delay implementation of the demolition orders, including the order against the ecological school made out of tires.

But in May a panel of justices headed by Noam Sohlberg, a resident of the settlement of Alon Shvut, ruled that there was no legal reason to intervene in the state’s decision to expel and forcibly transfer the village’s residents to an area the Civil Administration has allotted them next to the Abu Dis garbage dump.

His partners in the decision were justices Anat Baron and Yael Willner; Willner has a brother and a sister living in Kfar Adumim, but she did not recuse herself from deliberating on the fate of Khan al-Ahmar, nor did she agree to attorney Lecker’s request that she do so. About a week after the High Court’s green light for the demolition, the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Council approved the construction of a new neighborhood for Kfar Adumim called Nofei Bereshit about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from the Bedouin community at Khan al-Ahmar.

Preparations for the demolition and eviction began at the end of June, but the new petitions have halted them. It was Baron who issued a temporary injunction that has suspended the demolition.

The West Bank settlement of Kfar Adumim, 2017.
Lior Mizrahi

Attorneys Segal and Cinnamon, acting on behalf of the three settlements, write that the new petition (asking that the Civil Administration consider the master plan for the village) “is part of a broader move by the petitioners and influential elements on the ‘left’ side of the political map to ‘leave’ the ‘Palestinian construction criminals’ adjacent to the Israeli locales there and adjacent to Route 1 in order to create contiguous Palestinian settlement there.” (The internal quotation marks are in the original document).

The settlements say that this is an illegitimate way to deliberate; it will let any judicial ruling be reopened in the hope that a different panel of judges will make a change. Regarding the matter at hand, the settlements note that the High Court has already addressed the possibility of preparing a master plan for the village at its current location and has ruled that there is nothing wrong with the state’s intention to demolish it.

In their statement accompanying the request to join the respondents, the settlements write that the petitioners from Khan al-Ahmar are “construction criminals who have made a law unto themselves and have wittingly and without building permits built on lands that do not belong to them, adjacent to a major transportation artery [and then] brazenly applied to the honorable court to help them prevent the implementation of the demolition orders.”

The settlements argue that the petitioners built the structures without any building permits and on land that “no one disputes that they do not have even a speck of a right to claim as theirs.”

First construction, then legalization

The Bedouin village’s tents and makeshift shacks are on plots of land belonging to residents of Anata, for which they have received the owners’ permission. These plots include a are part of a large area of lands under private Palestinian ownership listed in the Land Registry, which Israel expropriated in 1975 but has not used since. Route 1, which links Jerusalem to Jericho, was far from Khan al-Ahmar, and only when the road was widened was the distance decreased.

One of the founders of Kfar Adumim, current Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, submitted an action plan to the IDF back at the end of 1978 or the beginning of 1979. The plan confirms that Bedouin communities were living in the area before the settlements were established, but the plan demands that these communities be expelled, Palestinian construction be curtailed and contiguous Jewish settlement be established.

On the basis of Civil Administration data, the planning rights group Bimkom published an opinion in 2010 on the pattern of planning and construction in Kfar Adumim and its offshoots: first construction without permits and only then planning that legalizes it.

The settlement was established in 1979 but a detailed master plan was approved only in 1988. New homes were built without permits, awaiting legalization in another master plan approved years later. Before all the possibilities for construction in the 1988 plan were used up, detailed master plans were advanced aimed at establishing Alon and Nofei Prat, which are called neighborhoods even though they are not contiguous with the mother settlement. Each of these “neighborhoods” spawned an illegal outpost of its own.

In his preliminary argument to the High Court, Jabareen mentions the Civil Administration’s demolition orders against large private homes in Kfar Adumim. He also mentions the legalization of at least half the structures against which orders were issued, and the four outposts created by the settlement and its offshoots Alon and Nofei Prat. The information about the outposts is based on Civil Administration and Peace Now data.

The outpost Givat Granit was established in 2002 on about 70 dunams (17.3 acres) of land, of which 10 are privately owned land and the rest is state land from the Jordanian period. Five residential structures and part of the approach road are located on privately-owned land.

The outpost Haroeh Ha’ivri was established without a master plan in 2015 on about 20 dunams of state land and serves as an educational farm school. The road to the outpost runs along private land, and the outpost receives funding from the Education Ministry. An events venue and desert field lodge was established on about 15 dunams of state land in 2012, and the outpost Ma’aleh Hagit was established in 1999 on about 70 dunams of state land with incursions onto privately-owned parcels.

In the Kfar Adumim statement to the High Court, the attorneys write that the Khan al-Ahmar petition is political, “and to this will testify the deeds of the petitioners who exploited the temporary order they received for purposes of opening the school year and populating the school building (made of tires) with pupils . The entire aim of the petition is to advance the petitioners’ political agenda and their attempt to create contiguous Palestinian settlement in strategic areas of Judea and Samaria. The petitioners’ attempt to depict the issue as a legal issue is flawed to a large extent by artificiality and testifies to the petitioner’s lack of good faith.”