The Potential War Crime of Khan al Ahmar

For years we’ve been reporting on threats to displace Bedouin living in the West Bank just outside of Jerusalem, in the area onto which Israeli wants expand Ma’ale Adumim and build the E-1 settlement. These threats and specific policies targeting communities in question, including home demolitions, have been documented in detail by Israeli and international human rights organizations. Most recently, the world has focused on the plight of the community of Khan al Ahmar, which drew attention months ago when Israel issued demolition orders for every home in the village.

The threat to Khan al Ahmar has become more severe in recent days, as the fate of the village goes before Israel’s High Court of Justice. The State has made clear to the court that it plans to evict the residents and demolish the village by the middle of 2018 – in effect, the State is looking to the Court to provide legal cover for it doing so. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem last week issued a press release responding to the State’s position: B’Tselem: Israel is asking the High Court’s permission to commit war crime.

The term “war crime” is something we don’t bandy about lightly, and cannot recall using it prior to the case of Khan al Ahmar. However there is convincing validity to B’Tselem’s claim that the forceful displacement of a civilian population under occupation, such as the residents of Khan al Ahmar, is a serious war crime. The question arises: why would Netanyahu risk proceedings under international law in order to remove 2,500 Bedouin from the E-1 area? We have long argued that Netanyahu’s government is carrying out a systematic policy of implementing the de facto annexation of Area C. A major component of that policy is the neutralization of the Palestinian presence in Area C, which is generally achieved by fencing or walling off the Palestinian villages, and linking them by sealed roads to Areas A and B. They are in scattered encampments, making enclosing them (as Israel has done with Palestinian villages like Azza’ayyem and Al Khadr) difficult, and – given the flimsy nature of the Bedouin dwellings – making them an easy target for outright displacement.