Bedouin Village's School Opens Early in Act of Protest Against Slated Demolition

Palestinian education ministry celebrated the opening of the school year in Khan al-Ahmar a month ahead of time, hoping this might stymie the village's evacuation

The school in Khan al-Ahmar, July 2018.
Emil Salman

The school year opened Monday at the “tire school” in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, a month before the start of the academic year in other Palestinian schools, to protest Israel’s plan to demolish the village.

The move in the West Bank community was designed largely to stymie the village's evacuation. After the opening ceremony, the children went to their classrooms but there was only one teacher in one classroom – even if textbooks were handed out.

The children soon started going home for the day, at most an hour and a half after the ceremony. They won't be back before the official start of the school year on September 1. 

The “tire school” serves Bedouin children from the entire area, and was built with the support of European nongovernmental organizations. The school elevated Khan al-Ahmar to the representative of all Bedouin villages in the Gush Adumim area near Jerusalem.

>> Explained: Everything You Need to Know About the West Bank Bedouin Village at the Eye of a Diplomatic Storm

In response to the decision to open the school year early, Israeli state prosecutors asked the High Court of Justice to hold an urgent hearing on the petition that the villagers filed 10 days ago and that led to a temporary freeze of the demolition, but the court rejected the request.

The opening ceremony was attended by a delegation from the Palestinian Education Ministry headed by Education Minister Sabri Saidam, who invited all Palestinians to come. Palestinian officials have been visiting the site daily, accompanied by foreign diplomats, social activists and delegations from abroad. On Saturday, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited.

The moving up of the school year is one of the steps the Palestinian Authority has taken during the past two weeks to protest the Israeli Civil Administration’s plan to evict Khan al-Ahmar’s residents and demolish the structures there.

The residents believe – as they did last year – that the state will be reluctant to force them to move in the middle of a school year given the school's status and the support it receives from the Europeans.

But they may be wrong. In the past, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he would not hesitate to evict the villagers in the middle of a school year, a move that could have significant diplomatic implications for Israel.

On Sunday, the residents found that the dirt road to the village (which passes through a tunnel that runs under the main road) had been blocked by an iron gate. This is the only access road for vehicles traveling to the village. The road was apparently blocked by the police, who said this route was meant for the security forces only.

“All the access routes to Khan al-Ahmar are open and accessible with no change,” the police said, apparently referring to pedestrian access through the surrounding hills.

On July 5, village residents petitioned the High Court after the Civil Administration refused to accept a detailed plan residents had prepared for legalizing the village in its current location. Justice Anat Baron issued a temporary injunction against the demolition.

In its response on July 10, the state asked the court to cancel the injunction, or at least limit it, and let the school be demolished before the start of the school year. This request received no response. On July 12, Justice Baron decided that the hearing on the petition would take place no later than August 15 – and on Monday the lawyers were told that the hearing would take place on August 1.  

The State Prosecutor’s Office therefore requested that an urgent hearing be held before the school reopened Monday. But Sunday morning Baron wrote in her decision, “I see no reason to change my decision of July 12, 2018, under which the petition will be decided before the court no later than August 15, 2018."

Meanwhile, a new detailed master plan for the village was submitted to the Civil Administration, initiated by the Bedouin residents and residents of the village of Anata, on whose land many of Khan al-Ahmar’s structures are located.

Attorney Tawfiq Jabareen, head of the team that wrote the petition, told reporters that he had informed the director of the Civil Administration’s planning bureau that he was waiting for additional documents from the Civil Administration, on top of the title deeds he had already submitted. He said he had asked the Civil Administration to schedule a hearing on the master plan.

Last week, village residents submitted another petition to the High Court seeking to prevent the state from evicting them from the site. The petition was submitted after it was understood that paths being prepared by Civil Administration earthmovers were not needed to demolish the village’s simple structures; a bulldozer or two would suffice. Instead, the paths would enable a forced expulsion, which would require significant police and Border Police forces and many buses.

Justice Ofer Grosskopf issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the evacuation and set Monday as the day by when the state had to respond.

At the site where the Bedouin are supposed to move after eviction, Al Jabal, a village in the Azariya area between the Abu Dis garbage dump and a chop shop for stolen vehicles, structures for classrooms are already in place, near structures for housing. Yet even when the site is ready, the state cannot move the villagers before the hearing set by the High Court.

On Wednesday, a village resident, Sara Abu Dahouk, 19, will be released from detention. She was arrested on July 4 during the dispersal of a demonstration in the village against the plans to demolish it.

Abu Dahouk was accused of assaulting a policeman and throwing a stone after a policeman pushed her aunt and two others violently to the ground and handcuffed her uncle. Following a plea bargain between military prosecutors and her attorney, Gaby Lasky, in which the assault charge was dismissed and she admitted to throwing a stone, she was sentenced in military court Sunday to 14 days in prison, including her days in detention, and a 5,000-shekel ($1,375) fine.

Of the 10 other people arrested at the demonstration, two were released within a few hours, three were released on bail of 1,000 shekels after five days of detention, and five residents of the village, including Sara’s father, were released on bail of 2,500 shekels after six days of detention. No charges were filed against them.