Palestinians are to be resettled in the West Bank to make room for Israelis. International protest has so far prevented this.
Israeli policemen and Palestinians at a protest against the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar Photo: dpa
Israel’s army has begun demolishing the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank. Bulldozers first demolished provisionally erected roadblocks. Protests against the eviction already left four people injured on Wednesday. The German government criticized the planned forced relocation of initially about 180 people to make room for the expansion of Jewish settlements. With the destruction of Khan al-Ahmar and new Israeli construction, "the prospects for a contiguous Palestinian territory and thus the feasibility of a two-state solution would be significantly reduced," it said.
The army cordoned off a wide area of the village. Visits are not allowed for the time being. At the end of May, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem had ruled that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar was legal. The Bedouins had built the village without the necessary building permits, including a school built with the help of European funds.
The place that Israel’s authorities have earmarked for the Bedouins of the Jahalin clan is called Al Dschabel, in German "the mountain." It is located directly next to a garbage dump in the small East Jerusalem town of Abu Dis. Each of the 30 or so families is to be compensated with 250 square meters of land if Khan al-Ahmar is destroyed. On the Jabel in Abu Dis, bulldozers are already preparing the ground for the new buildings.
"Where am I supposed to put my animals?" asks Eid Jahalin. Around 1,600 sheep and goats and 28 camels are part of the Jahalin community’s herd. They are the main source of income for the Bedouins, who process the milk into cheese and sell it at the market in Jerusalem’s Old City. Khan al-Ahmar is located directly on the main road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The market in the city, which is barely ten kilometers away, is easy to reach from here.
Green light for further evictions?
Eid Jahalin, who prefers to be called Abu Khamis, is a father of seven. Deep wrinkles run through his dark face, and the mustache of the 51-year-old man is already gray. The urbanization of the Bedouins "would be the end of us.
Leading the fight against the shepherds is a group of Israelis from the neighboring settlements of Kfar Adumim, Alon and Nofei Prat. With repeated petitions, they demanded in court the immediate implementation of already existing demolition orders. "It can’t be that anyone can settle wildly in the area as they wish," reasoned Naomi Kahn, spokeswoman for the Regavim settler movement, which uses funds from Israeli local governments in the occupied West Bank to finance the court cases. "There are regulations, and they have to apply to everyone," Kahn says, acknowledging that "we also want to protect Israel’s land so that legal localities can spread there."
Barely 500 meters from Khan al-Ahmar, 92 new housing units for Israeli families are already planned. The region east of Jerusalem, which still bears the name E1 (East one) from the British Mandate period, is considered strategically important. Israel has long planned the establishment of a settlement with 3,000 housing units, which would be connected to the settler town of Maale Adumim on the other side of the main road, which already has almost 40,000 inhabitants. This would effectively cut off the southern West Bank from Jerusalem.
So far, international protests have prevented construction of the new settlement from beginning. Sarit Michaeli of the human rights organization B’tselem now fears that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, "should it go through without opposition, could give Israel the green light for further expulsions." B’tselem also holds the judges responsible if the destruction of the village occurs. The forced relocation of the Jahalin would amount to a "war crime."
A school built from car tires and mud
If it were up to Abu Khamis, he and his family would prefer to move back to the desert near Arad, from which his family fled in the early 1950s. At that time, the Israeli army wanted to recruit Bedouins to serve in the army. His parents moved to the West Bank, which was then Jordanian. "The Jordanians left us alone," Abu Khamis says, "but they didn’t help us much either." The clan settled east of Jerusalem near Wadi Kelt, where water flows year-round.
Until the Six-Day War, the main road near Khan al-Ahmar was the central link between Jerusalem and Amman. "Our problems started with the occupation," says Abu Khamis. After the Six-Day War in 1967, the military administration declared large areas a restricted zone, and the Bedouins had to move again and again and move closer together. Settlement construction began in 1979, first of Maale Adumim and four years later of Kfar Adumim. Today, the Bedouin village is located in the so-called C-Zone, on Palestinian land but under Israeli control.
Abu Khamis succeeded in mobilizing international aid for the construction of a school. Using old car tires and mud, the shepherds constructed a school building in which 170 children and young people from the region now attend school up to ninth grade. The school is the reason that even the Palestinian Authority, which only "provided 15 teachers after a long struggle," according to Abu Khamis, recently joined the protest against the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar.
"We appeal to our friends in the international community to protect the universal right of children to education," reads a statement from Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam. The school in Khan al-Ahmar was built with European money. Now it is up to the politicians "to help the children save their school.