Analysis |

Khan al-Ahmar Ruling Gives Green Light for Mass Expulsion of Bedouin Villages

MK Ayelet Shaked’s threat worked to a certain extent - but so did the court policy

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
khan al-Ahmar, this week.
khan al-Ahmar, this week.Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Presumably, Minister Ayelet Shaked’s threats influenced to some extent the High Court of Justice’s ruling on Wednesday, which authorized the demolition on Wednesday of the West Bank Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar.

Bedouin community attorneys submitted three petitions on behalf of the Jahalin Bedouin residents. They gave the court some leeway to avoid the ruling, but the judges chose not to use it.

One should bear in mind, however, that the High Court approved the demolition of several other Jahalin Bedouin encampments, to enable the expansion of the Maale Adumim settlement, already in the mid-90s when the “Oslo” government was in power and then Justice Minister David Libai was no threat to the court.

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Little attention was given to the eviction at the time – the Oslo euphoria overshadowed it. These communities’ deportees today live in a poverty-stricken township (al Jabel) near the Abu Dis garbage dump, which serves Maale Adumim. Their way of life, livelihood and women’s status in the tribe suffered a harsh setback due to the forced move.

In contrast to the negative reputation it received from Habayit Hayehudi party and other rightist-religious circles, the High Court has refrained from the beginning of the West Bank’s occupation to intervene in Israel’s settlement policy and its taking over Palestinian lands. After all, forcible eviction of Bedouin and other Palestinian shepherd communities from villages and residential sites, where they resided before the occupation, or the sweeping construction bans imposed on them, are the other side of the settlement policy.

Over the past 20 years, and after setting up Al Jabel, planning and legal procedures taken by the Bedouins’ lawyers prevented the demolition of simple housing structures, also by means of temporary court orders, and held up the expulsion of some 20 other communities in the region to permanent housing sites.

The forceful American objection in the past to Israel’s expansion plans in the area between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem (area E1) certainly helped to put off the expulsions. But all the High Court panels that heard the Bedouin’s petitions refused to address the fundamental, arguments in principle raised for years by the veteran lawyer Shlomo Lecker and others. The lawyers maintained that these communities have lived there long before the settlements were built, that the population is protected according to international law and that the authorities are practicing blatant discrimination by approving planning and construction for Jews, citizens of the occupying state, while preventing planning and construction from the original population.

The justices ignored these facts. So they approved, for example, in 2009, to demolish the cave village Khirbet Tana, east of Beit Furik village, which was created decades before the State of Israel was established. The court accepted the argument that the village’s lands were declared a closed military area, destined for training, and authorized new demolitions after the residents had rebuilt their homes on their land.

Now there is no longer any danger that the American administration knows, or cares, why its predecessors objected to annexing area E1. The justices were given a way out of their last ruling by the present team of Jahalin lawyers, headed by Tawfiq Jabarin, even without having to resort to the equality principle.

One leeway was a fundamental flaw in the process by which the civil administration rejected the Jahalin’s detailed master plan. Justice Hanan Melcer mentioned it. The justices could also have used the fact that the prosecution and civil administration tried to conceal from them that one of the permanent site options they were offering the Bedouin was too close to a large sewage treatment site, a proximity that is forbidden.

The justices could have also wondered why so far no use had been made of the private land of Anata village, which had been expropriated for “military needs” in the mid-70s and is where the Jahalin tribe lives. The justices could have paid attention to the argument that the community hadn’t deliberately settled near a main road, but that the authorities had widened the main road until it bordered on the communities’ homes.

To what extent Shaked’s threat worked here, or whether it was the High Court’s tradition of not intervening in the settlement policy that affected the ruling is anyone’s guess.

The justices’ ruling on Wednesday ended a chapter in the state’s war of attrition against the Bedouin. The state has consistently narrowed their grazing areas since the 70s, blocked their access to water sources and insistently refused to let them build and connect to water and electricity infrastructures according to their natural growth and changing needs. The civil administration’s inspectors raided their communities systematically and frequently demolished structures. Now a new chapter has begun in the war of attrition, because the Khan al-Ahmar community is determined not to live beside a garbage dump or near sewage ponds.

In their ruling to authorize the village’s demolition the justices have given the state a green light to embark on a campaign of mass destruction and deportation of some 20 other Bedouin communities in the same area.

The Regavim NGO, the Kfar Adumim and Maale Adumim settlements and the Foreign Affairs and Defense sub-committee for West Bank settlement, headed by MK Moti Yogev, can certainly celebrate. This was the goal of their intense efforts in the past decade - to turn the Bedouin communities in the area into “invaders” that sabotage the settlements’ expansion.

The community that built a school from tires had become the flagship of the struggle against banishing Palestinians from area C. This is precisely why the right wing and civil administration’s planning and supervising institutions concentrated their efforts against it, and succeeded.

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