The main issue before the High Court of Justice on Wednesday was not whether the residents of Khan al-Ahmar should be evacuated. It is where the families should go, three court justices said on Wednesday, in response to a petition challenging the demolition of the West Bank Bedouin village, which was built without construction permits.
Dozens of Bedouin families of the Jahalin tribe who had been expelled from the Negev in the 1950s have lived at Khan al-Ahmar since then. The state never approved the creation of the village and it is now proposing that its residents move to a site near Al-Eizariya, a Palestinian village not far from Khan al-Ahmar. The designated site is between a garbage dump and an auto scrapyard.
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In May, after a long legal battle, High Court Justices Hanan Melcer, Yitzhak Amit and Anat Baron ruled that the state could legally raze Khan al-Ahmar. Following the filing of an appeal by the residents, in July the court suspended the demolition order. On Wednesday, the justices reiterated that the residents will have to move and that the only issue is where they would be going. The judicial panel urged the parties to come to agreement on that question.
At Wednesday's session, Justice Baron said that in principle, the parties accepted that this was the only remaining issue, including what alternative could be agreed upon other than the site near Al-Eizariya. Justice Melcer reminded the state's lawyer, Ran Rosenberg, that he had promised not to evict the residents until the new site has a school. It would replace a school made in part of tires at the village's current location that has been the subject of international media attention.
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No school is ready yet, Melcer noted, to which Rosenberg responded that the state stands by its commitment. Several mobile homes have been installed at Al-Eizariya site to serve as a school. They have not yet been connected to utilities, Rosenberg acknowledged, but he said the trailers would be connected within about a week and no eviction would be carried out before that.
Justice Baron said the state had promised to continue to look for a third site even after the relocation to Al-Eizariya, but she was critical of the state for seeking to evict the residents first and only then consider a permanent home for the residents. Lawyers for the petitioners said the residents want to remain in the immediate vicinity of the present village, but Melcer said they might not have that choice.
The justices called for a break in the hearing and sent the parties to discuss an alternative third site. The state is offering to supply residents of Khan al-Ahmar with large 60 square meter (about 650 square foot) tents, which would be set up at another Palestinian village, Jahalin West, Rosenberg said. It is also willing to consent to a site east of the settlement of Mitzpeh Yericho. The state said its relocation plans are subject to the residents' not resisting eviction from the current site.