Khan al-Ahmar Demolition Postponed

As has been widely reported by international media, Israel’s imminent demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar has provoked significant international protest, with key countries, most notably European states, condemning the planned action as a grave violation of international law.

With this mobilization of Europe and the UN as the backdrop, alongside unusually strong and organized domestic Israeli activism, and notable activism from progressives in the United States, on July 6 the Israeli High Court agreed to suspend the demolition of the village in order to examine a new petition by the residents, who argued that their demand for legalizing the village has not been examined by the Civil Administration. The High Court gave the State until July 11 to respond. The State responded to the Court’s action by demanding to be allowed to proceed immediately with the demolition of the school, in spite of the suspension of the demolition order. The Court rejected this demand and set a hearing date for August 15, delaying the demolition of the village at least until then.

On July 9, residents of Khan al-Ahmar – who in addition to facing demolition of their homes were also, in the meantime, being forcibly evacuated from them by Israeli forces – filed another petition to the High Court. This one argued that the State had issued demolition orders for the buildings (now suspended by the Court), but had never issued evacuation order for the residents (and therefore should not be evacuating them). In light of this petition, Israel’s High Court suspended the evacuation and require the State to respond by July 16.

Some observations:

  • There is not doubt that the cohesive engagement of European states played in a key role in creating an environment in which the High Court was willing and ready to act and postpone the demolition. The successful organizing and engaging around Khan al-Ahmar demonstrates that when Europe and others engage with determination and unity, they can have an impact. It is also an indication that Netanyahu is aware that having the support of Trump and Putin does not always suffice, and that the concerns of Israel’s traditional European allies cannot be ignored.
  • The Court’s ruling is a positive development, but it is a provisional, temporary victory; Israeli authorities have clearly demonstrated that they are determined to proceed with the demolition. Moreover, there is the danger that the Court’s positive action will ultimately be exploited as political cover if/when the village is ultimately demolished, with Israeli authorities and their defenders arguing that the Palestinian residents of Khan al-Ahmar enjoyed the full benefits of a fair and honest judicial system. Such arguments ignore the fact that Israeli domestic courts issuing rulings regarding the property rights of non-citizens living on land over which Israel has no legal sovereignty is, in itself, legally problematic (to say the least). They also ignore the fact that the Israeli legal system in the West Bank, as it has operated from the time it was instituted to the present, is explicitly designed to prioritize the interests and ambitions of Israel and its Israeli citizens, at the cost of the rights, interests, and health of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents. The track record of Israel’s planning and legal authorities, especially, since the time of the Oslo Accords, in Area C, speaks for itself.
  • That said, the public campaign cited above cannot possibly have escaped the attention of the Court. It is likely that the justices are asking themselves if Netanyahu might not want the issue of Khan al-Ahmar “to go way,” and, unwilling to rile his base, he expects the Court to do his dirty work. In many ways, this would be the best of all worlds for Netanyahu: he could remove Khan al-Ahmar from the public agenda at no political cost to himself, and attack the Court for doing so (it is worth noting that on July 17, the Knesset adopted a new law stripping Palestinians of the right to bring land ownership cases to the High Court). Whatever merit there is to these speculations, the prospect of judicial intervention in stopping the demolitions and displacement remain low, but it is not to be ruled out. The final word has not been said.
  • It should also be recalled that the current action against Khan al-Ahmar is in part about the government “compensating” the settlers for the evacuation of the outpost Netiv Ha’avot in June. Settlers have used that evacuation, carried out only after the Israeli government exhausted every possible effort to legalize the settlers’ illegal construction, as a tool to exert pressure on the government to proceed rapidly with the demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar (including by demonstrating there and calling for the government to fulfill “its obligation” and demolish the village).
  • Finally, as we have written repeatedly in the past, the story of Khan Al-Ahmar is not only about the tragedy for the village and its inhabitants, or about Israel’s readiness to carry out an ostensible war crime in the face of the world. It is also about Israel’s determination to clear the entire area of the West Bank east of Jerusalem, and located within the line of the built and planned barrier, of any Palestinian presence. This clearing will prepare the ground for the future construction of E1 and de facto annexation of this so-called bloc, which extends well beyond the built-up area of Maale Adumim (see also Daniel Seidemann’s interview with +972 magazine).