Palestinian West Bank community faces expulsion as far-right Israel vows expansion


KHAN AL-AHMAR, West Bank (AP) — Protesters climbing the windswept hills east of Jerusalem disrupted Maha Ali’s breakfast.

Palestinian chants of support for their Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, at risk of demolition by the Israeli army since it lost its legal protection more than four years ago, drowned out the singing of birds and the bleating of sheep. .

Although the intention was to cheer up the village, the solidarity rally last week made Ali uneasy. Israeli politicians gathered on the opposite hill for a counter-protest, calling for the immediate evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar.

“Why is everyone here now? Did something happen?” Ali asked her sister, looking out at a swarm of TV reporters. “Four years of quiet and now this chaos again.”

The longstanding dispute over Khan al-Ahmar has re-emerged as a focus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a legal deadline looming and Israel’s new far-right ministers pressuring the government to honor a court-sanctioned commitment. Supreme 2018 to wipe the town off the map. Israel maintains that the village, home to nearly 200 Palestinians and an EU-funded school, was built illegally on state land.

For Palestinians, Khan al-Ahmar is emblematic of the latest stage of the decades-long conflict, as thousands of Palestinians fight for Israeli permission to build in the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank over which the Israeli army has complete control.

READ MORE: Israeli forces kill man in West Bank, Palestinian officials say

After a spasm of violence last week, including the deadliest Israeli incursion into the West Bank for two decades and the deadliest Palestinian attack on civilians in Jerusalem since 2008, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded Saturday by vowing to strengthen Jewish settlements. in the Israeli-controlled region. part of the West Bank, where little land is allocated to Palestinians.

The competition for land is taking place in the hills south of Hebron, where the Supreme Court ordered the expulsion of 1,000 Palestinians in an area known as Masafer Yatta, and throughout the territory. In unauthorized Palestinian villages, with no direct access to Israeli power, water or sewerage infrastructure, residents watch helplessly as Israeli authorities demolish houses, issue evacuation orders and expand settlements, changing the landscape of the territory they dream of calling your state.

Last year, Israeli authorities razed 784 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank because they lacked permits, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported, the most since it began tracking such demolitions a decade ago. The army gradually demolishes houses, the group says, loathe to risk the global censorship that would come from razing an entire town.

News of the impending mass eviction of Khan al-Ahmar four years ago sparked widespread backlash. Since then, the government has stalled, asking the court for more time due to international pressure and repeatedly stalled elections in Israel.

“They say the bulldozers will come tomorrow, next month, next year,” Ali, 40, said from his metal-roofed shed, where he can see the red-roofed houses of the rapidly growing settlement of Kfar Adumim. “Our life is frozen.”

On Wednesday, the Israeli government requested another four months to respond to a Supreme Court petition from a pro-settler group, Regavim, asking why Khan al-Ahmar has not yet been razed. Far-right lawmakers condemned the delay on Wednesday, with Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, demanding that the new cabinet change the “shaky policies of the previous government.”

TO WATCH: Tensions escalate after Israeli forces kill several Palestinians during a raid in the West Bank

Bedouins fear the brakes have been removed now that Israel has the most right-wing government in history.

Regavim co-founder Bezalel Smotrich is now Israel’s ultranationalist 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 decided to destroy a Jewish outpost” built illegally in the West Bank. .

“This is not just about Khan al-Ahmar, this is about the future of Judea and Samaria,” said Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the parliament’s defense and foreign affairs committee during a visit to the village last week, using the Biblical names of West Bank.

Khan al-Ahmar leader Eid Abu Khamis, 56, said anxiety has returned to his cluster of huts. “They want to empty the land and give it to the settlers,” he said.

Bedouins have made Khan al-Ahmar their home since at least the 1970s, though some, like Ali and Abu Khamis, say their parents lived there before. Israel has offered to resettle the villagers at another site several kilometers away. Palestinians fear that Israel will use the strategic strip of land to separate Jerusalem from Palestinian cities, making a future Palestinian state unfeasible.

“We are trying to counter 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.”

During a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Tuesday, he voiced Washington’s opposition to Israeli demolitions and evictions, moves he said put a two-state solution to the conflict “more out of reach.”

READ MORE: Netanyahu’s government vows to expand West Bank settlements and annex occupied territory

The US government has raised concerns about the planned evictions of Palestinians in the West Bank with the Israeli government, the US Office of Palestinian Affairs said, referring to the cases of Khan al-Ahmar and Masafer Yatta in what which is known as Area C.

The zone covers 60 percent of the West Bank designated as under full Israeli control. This is in contrast to the remaining areas, including Palestinian population centers, where the Palestinian Home Rule government exercises civil and partial security control.

This demarcation of different zones was part of the 1995 Oslo peace accords.

It was an interim agreement, intended to last for five years pending a final peace agreement.

“The intention was always for most of Area C to be part of the Palestinian state,” said Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of those peace deals. “Otherwise it’s like holding people in a prison and eventually there would be an explosion.”

Nearly three decades later, Area C is home to half a million Israelis in dozens of settlements deemed illegal under international law. They live alongside between 180,000 and 300,000 Palestinians, the UN estimates, who are rarely granted permits to build. When they build houses without permits, military bulldozers bulldoze them.

Netanyahu’s coalition partners have a radically different vision for Area C than the one elaborated in Oslo. They hope to increase the settler population, eliminate Palestinian construction, and even annex the territory. The Cabinet announced the freezing of Palestinian buildings there as part of punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority last month.

Last May, the Israeli Supreme Court approved the expulsion of some 1,000 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron, because the Israeli army declared it a restricted firing zone in the early 1980s. There and in the surrounding camps, Palestinians describe an Israeli campaign to make life so miserable that they are forced to leave.

Last Wednesday, Luqba Jabari, 65, woke up to the sound of bulldozers in Khirbet Ma’in, part of the Masafer Yatta area, where his grandparents were born. She and her 30 relatives ran outside to watch the army reduce her home to rubble. The military demolished her family’s other three huts and water tanks.

That night, he said, they would sleep in their cars, next to the rubble of their family life together. For a week now, his neighbors have offered some vacant rooms as a temporary shelter.

“This is our land,” Jabari said. “There is no place to go.”


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