Far-right Israeli expansion plans predict Palestinian evictions
After four years of relative calm, Palestinians in Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank can once again hear Israeli settlers march in the distance, drowned out only by the sound of heavy equipment rolling behind them for demolitions.
Protesters pouring over the windswept hills east of Jerusalem interrupted Maha Ali’s breakfast.
Palestinian chants support their Bedouin community in Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, at risk of demolition by the Israeli army since losing legal protection more than four years ago, drowning out songbirds and swarming sheep.
While he aimed to cheer the village up, last week’s solidarity rally unsettled Ali. Israeli politicians gathered on the opposite hill to launch a counter-protest, demanding the immediate evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar.
“Why are they all back here now? Did something happen?” Ali asked her sister, staring in the direction of a swarm of television journalists. “Four years of quiet and now it’s chaos again.”
The long-running dispute over Khan al-Ahmar has re-emerged as a focus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a legal deadline approaching and new far-right Israeli ministers pushing the government to fulfill a High Court-mandated commitment from 2018 to crack down on a Security Council resolution. village from the map. Israel claims the hamlet, which is home to nearly 200 Palestinians and a school funded by the European Union, was built illegally on state land.
For Palestinians, Khan al-Ahmar is a symbol of the final phase of the decades-old conflict, in which thousands of Palestinians struggle to obtain an Israeli permit to build in the 60% of the occupied West Bank that the Israeli military controls in full.
After a spate of violence last week — including the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank in two decades and the deadliest Palestinian attack on civilians in Jerusalem since 2008 — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded Saturday by vowing to boost Jewish settlements in the Israeli-controlled West Bank. Part of the West Bank, where very little land is allocated to the Palestinians.
shatter the dream
The competition is playing out over land in the southern Hebron Hills — where the High Court ordered the expulsion of 1,000 Palestinians in an area known as Masafer Yatta — and across the region.
In unauthorized Palestinian villages – without direct access to Israeli electricity, water or sanitation infrastructure – residents watch helplessly as Israeli authorities demolish homes, issue eviction orders and expand settlements, changing the landscape of the land they dream of claiming their own state.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem reported that last year Israeli authorities demolished 784 Palestinian structures in the West Bank because they lacked permits, the most since they began tracking demolitions a decade ago. The army is gradually demolishing homes, the group says, and is loath to risk the global criticism that would come from razing an entire village.
News of the imminent mass eviction of Khan al-Ahmar four years ago sparked widespread backlash. Since then, the government has faltered, the court asking for more time due to international pressure and Israel’s faltering elections again and again.
“They say the bulldozers will come tomorrow, next month, next year,” Ali, 40, said from a metal-covered shed where she could see the red-roofed homes of the fast-growing settlement of Kfar Adumim. Our lives are frozen.
On Wednesday, the Israeli government is expected to respond to a petition filed by a pro-settler group, Regavim, asking the High Court why Khan al-Ahmar has not yet been demolished. Residents fear the brakes are off now that Israel has the most right-wing government in history.
Regavim’s co-founder, Bezalel Smotrich, is now Israel’s ultra-nationalist finance minister. In a controversial coalition deal, he was given control of an Israeli military body that oversees construction and demolition in Israeli-administered parts of the West Bank.
At a cabinet meeting last week, Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, demanded that Khan al-Ahmar be demolished “just as the defense minister chose to destroy a Jewish outpost” illegally built in the West Bank.
“It’s not just about Khan al-Ahmar, it’s about the future of Judea and Samaria,” Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the parliament’s foreign and defense committee, said during a visit to the village last week, using the biblical names for the West Bank.
Eid Abu Khamis, the 56-year-old leader of Khan al-Ahmar, said anxiety returned to his cluster of huts. “They want to empty the land and give it to the settlers,” he said.
The Bedouin have made Khan al-Ahmar their home since at least the 1970s, although some, like Ali and Abu Khamis, say their parents lived there earlier.
Israel offered to resettle the villagers to another site several miles away. The Palestinians fear that Israel will use the strategic strip of land to cut off Jerusalem from the Palestinian cities, making the future Palestinian state unviable.
“We are trying to confront this in every possible way,” said Ahmad Majdalani, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Social Development. The new government will find itself in direct confrontation with us and the international community.”
The US Office of Palestinian Affairs said that the US government has raised concerns about planned evacuations of Palestinians in the West Bank with the Israeli government, referring to the cases of Khan al-Ahmar and Masafer Yatta in what is known as Area C.
The area covers 60% of the West Bank classified as under full Israeli control. This is in contrast to the remaining areas, including Palestinian population centers, where the Palestinian self-rule government exercises partial and civil security control.
This demarcation of the different regions was part of the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords.
“Like locking people up”
It was a temporary agreement, meant to last for five years pending a final peace agreement.
“The intention has always been for the lion’s share of Area C to be part of the Palestinian state,” said Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of these peace agreements. Otherwise, it would be like holding people in a prison and eventually there would be an explosion. “
Nearly three decades later, Area C is home to nearly half a million Israelis in dozens of settlements considered illegal under international law. They live alongside 180,000 to 300,000 Palestinians, the United Nations estimates, who have never been granted building permits. When they build houses without permits, military bulldozers flatten them with earth.
Netanyahu’s coalition partners have a radically different vision for Area C than the one laid out in Oslo. They hope to increase the number of settlers, eliminate Palestinian construction, and even annex lands. The cabinet announced a freeze on Palestinian construction there as part of punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority last month.
Last May, the Israeli Supreme Court approved the expulsion of about 1,000 Palestinians in Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron, because the Israeli army declared it a no-fire zone in the early 1980s.
There and in surrounding camps, Palestinians describe an Israeli campaign to make life so miserable that they had to leave.
Last Wednesday, Luqba al-Jabri, 65, was awakened by the clatter of bulldozers in Khirbet Ma’in, part of the Masafer Yatta district, where her grandfather was born. She and her 30 relatives rushed outside to watch the army reduce their home to rubble. The army toppled her family’s three other huts and water cisterns.
That night, she said, they were sleeping in their cars, next to the ruins of their family’s life together. For the past week, their neighbors have offered some spare rooms as a temporary refuge.
Al-Jabari said, “This is our land.” “There is nowhere to go.”