The High Court of Justice is expected to fill up Monday with a very familiar audience from recent years: Bedouin villagers from the West Bank, diplomats, representatives of international organizations and Israeli activists. Justices Neal Hendel, Isaac Amit and Uri Shoham are to hear two petitions involving the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which became famous in 2009 for its school, built out of tires.
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One of the petitions, by the settlement of Kfar Adumim, demands that the state implement its order to demolish the school. The other, brought by the Bedouin residents, seeks to rescind demolition orders issued against most of the structures in the village.
At the request of the State Prosecutor’s Office, the opposing petitions are to be presented at the same hearing. But the days have passed and the prosecution has still yet to present its response to them. On September 13, officers of the Civil Administration (part of the Israel Defense Forces) came to Khan al-Ahmar and informed the residents that despite their opposition, they were to be moved to “Al-Jabal West,” near the Abu Dis garbage dump. In the late 1990s, land was allocated there to the Bedouin who were expelled from an area slated for the expansion of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement. A study by the nongovernmental organization Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights and UNRWA shows that the enforced move to a semi-urban environment would severely harm the residents’ lifestyle and livelihood.
Last week, the State Prosecutor’s Office twice requested a continuance to submit its response. In both cases, it said it was still awaiting the response of “the most senior political officials.” That response is expected to come only on Sunday afternoon. But the court refused the request of lawyer Shlomo Lecker, representing the Bedouin community, to postpone the hearing due to the late filing of the response.
Presumably the senior political officials had time to peruse the response over the holiday. Its direction was set by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman: On August 29, he said his ministry was preparing to evacuate the residents of Khan al-Ahmar and Sussia – another flagship in the struggle of Palestinian communities in Area C (under Israeli civil and security control) against attempts to expel them to sites abutting Area A (under Palestinian civil and security control).
No one is disputing that the school and other structures were built without permits. But the problem is not “construction offenders.” The problem is Israeli policy, which prevents construction and hookups to infrastructure to the point where dozens of communities have deteriorated to the harshest of conditions. The problem is Israel’s intention to uproot them, in order to expand settlements and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
This political project – the forced uprooting of Bedouin communities, replacing them with new Jewish settlements – is against international law. It has reached the doorstep of the High Court justices, who are under constant pressure to “respect the will of the people” – that is, the will of the settlers who control the government – even though this will is neither legal nor moral. It must be hoped the justices will be able to stand in the breach.