Time's Up for Khan al-Ahmar: Israel Can Now Legally Demolish Contested West Bank Village

Over the past few months, Khan al-Ahmar has become a magnet for solidarity activists, with dozens of Palestinian activists coming to the site, holding rallies and meetings, and building symbolical new structures – which were immediately demolished

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Sunrise over the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar, September 13, 2018.
Sunrise over the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar, September 13, 2018.Credit: Majdi Mohammed,AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

October 1 marked the end of the period the Civil Administration had given the West Bank Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar to leave their village. Not one of the residents demolished their own homes, meaning Israel is now legally able to carry out the forced evacuations and demolitions, including their school built out of tires.

The Civil Administration told the residents on September 23 that if they chose not to demolish their homes themselves “the area authorities will act to implement the demolition orders in keeping with the High Court of Justice ruling and all laws."

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No one knows when and how the structures will actually be destroyed. The residents of the village, located near the West Bank settlement of Kfar Adumim, say the children are suffering from nightmares, insomnia and bedwetting.

Meanwhile, over the past three days, a pool of sewage from the direction of Kfar Adumim has leaked into the wadi near Khan al-Ahmar.

Israeli forces are confronted by Palestinian protestors on September 14, 2018, as they demonstrate against the blocking of the road leading to the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar.Credit: Abbas Momani / AFP

In September, Israel's High Court denied a petition filed by the village's residents, giving the state the green light to evacuate the entire village. The government is expected to transfer the residents to a permanent settlement near Al-Eizariya in the Ma'aleh Adumim, between a garbage dump and a junkyard.

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.

>> Read more: The Khan al-Ahmar Demolition Will Be Ugly | Opinion

Since the roads were paved, Khan al-Ahmar has become a magnet for solidarity activists, organized mainly by the Palestinian Authority’s office against the separation barrier and the settlements. Over the past few months dozens of Palestinian activists have come to the site, held rallies and meetings, declared the village a “local council” and built symbolical new structures – which were immediately demolished.

Several dozen families from the Jahalin tribe reside in the village. 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 and never received permits, 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 in September after a prolonged legal battle.

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.

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. Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, among the founders of the settler group Gush Emunim and the settlement of Kfar Adumim, raised the idea of increasing the size of Jewish settlements in the area and evicting all the Bedouin communities on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem.

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.

Over the past ten years the settlement of Kfar Adumim has filed four High Court petitions demanding that the Civil Administration demolish Khan al-Ahmar, until the state announced its intention to do so. Since 1967 the Civil Administration has not prepared a master plan for the Bedouin communities and other Palestinian shepherd communities in the area, although they were permanently situated in their current location for years before the settlements were established. In the absence of master plans, any structure built in these places is considered illegal and to be demolished.

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