The village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank remains under agonising threat of demolition in the coming days by the Israeli authorities
This week, there remains serious concerns that any lingering hopes of a two-state solution in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) could be lost forever with the planned destruction of a small community.
Last month, I visited Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank. It is a small Bedouin village, home to around 190 people. The Israeli government had set a deadline of last Monday, October 1st, for the community to evacuate their village before evictions and enforced demolitions of their homes were threatened to take place.
The community of Khan al-Ahmar are facing an anxious and drawn-out wait to see if their homes will be demolished, with their fate increasingly uncertain.
Khan al-Ahmar’s community, with the help of Trócaire’s local partners such as the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, have attempted to fight the eviction process. However, Israel's Supreme Court rejected the final appeal a few weeks ago, leading to the latest imminent threat of demolition.
This community are an inconvenient obstacle to the Israeli authorities' desire to prioritise settlement development and carve up occupied Palestinian lands despite the fact that these acts are war crimes.
Khan al-Ahmar is known as the ‘School Community’ thanks to the basic but charming school built in their village to educate their children.
“In 1991 we asked for a permit [from the Israeli authorities] to build a school here, but we did not get one,” community spokesman Eid Abu Khamis explains. However the community built a school from mud and tyres, and around 200 children from all over the surrounding communities go to the school here. The school, along with the rest of the village, faces demolition.
The community also face harassment from the nearby settlers, who Khamis says are monitoring them with a drone. He says that “in 2014 the Italian consulate was here and we asked for facilities for the playground. Two weeks later they sent a truck full of facilities for the children to play with. The settlers spotted this from the drone and called the military to come and everything was confiscated”.
Residents are members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, and have already experienced displacement. They were expelled from their lands by the Israeli military in the Negev desert in the 1950s before later being moved again from lands where the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim was established.
It now looks as though they will be uprooted once more – for a third time – from their simple homes.
Khamis believes that their village is being demolished to make way for the expansion of Israeli settlements. “Israel uses the pretext of confiscating land for military purposes,” he says, “but later they are allocated to settlements.”
The Israeli authorities have proposed two locations in the West Bank for the relocation of this Bedouin community – one of which is adjacent to a garbage dump, the other located just 400 metres from a sewage-treatment facility.
The first site near the garbage dump at Abu Dis is a contentious proposal as the proposed location is on private Palestinian-owned land.
On a visit to the second proposed site – the Og Wastewater Treatment Plant – it is immediately obvious that the location is entirely unsuitable for a community. An offensive stench fills the air, striking you as soon as you walk in to the area. Relocating here would ignore commonly respected health standards for habitation distance from such a facility.
“Relocating people here is killing them slowly,” says Khamis. “If they asked you to live here, what would you do?”
If the bulldozers eventually arrive as widely expected and Khan al-Ahmar is wiped from the map, it will not just be a tragedy for this community. Khamis notes the potentially devastating long-term effects his community’s eviction will have on the wider and already ailing peace process, “This is important, not just for my community but also for the whole peace process.”
Despite being small, Khan al-Ahmar is placed in a strategic location. Removing this village would pave the way for further settlement construction and the extension of the separation barrier in the West Bank. It is the last loose thread to be picked in separating the West Bank into two parts and it would scupper any hopes of land continuity for a future Palestinian state.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s planned diplomatic visit to Israel this week appears to have led to some delay to Israeli plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, according to recent media reports.
However, all of the international community, including Ireland, should do everything within its diplomatic powers to prevent this tragedy from ever unfolding.
Ciaran Gallagher works for Trócaire as Communications Officer