What did the High Court decide and what does it mean?

As was widely anticipated, on September 7, the Israeli High Court of Justice authorized the State of Israel to proceed with the evacuation/destruction of Khan Al-Ahmar, accepting the State’s claim that the village was built illegally. Basically, the Court reiterated and made final what was said a month ago (during the hearing held on August 1 – see our analysis here), with the Court not questioning the right of the State to evacuate the village but requesting (rather than requiring) the State to try to come to terms with the village residents regarding the site to which they would be relocated.

In concrete terms, this decision rescinded the temporary injunctions issued at the end of July and gave a green light for the State to proceed with the eviction of Khan al-Ahmar within 7 days, at the discretion of the State’s decision. Notably, nothing in the judgment compels the State to raze the village; rather, it lifted the order preventing the State from doing so.

While this outcome is unsurprising, the verdict is by no means routine, given its far-reaching implications.

  • With this decision, the High Court has given the green light to an act that constitutes a war crime. As we noted previously, “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…” If carried out, this abhorrent act will further fuel anti-Israel activism and provide fodder for international legal action.
  • With this decision, the High Court gave the Israeli government a green light to not only carry out a war crime with the eviction of Khan al-Ahmar but to do the same thing to additional Palestinian villages in this area and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories, based on the same “legal” grounds. Indeed, such a policy can now be pursued by Israel without fear that the Court will intervene and try to stop it.

What was the reaction of the international community?

The UN’s Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov stressed that the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar will violate international law. European states, as well as the EU itself, have been at the forefront in pressuring Israel to change course, emphasizing that the displacement of the residents of Khan El Ahmar would threaten the viability of the two-state solution and undermine prospects for peace (the joint statement from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK – issued September 10 – is here). The Trump Administration, with its silence, signaled acceptance if not outright approval of the decision.

What are the concrete ramifications of the verdict?

As noted above, the verdict gives a green light for the removal of Khan al-Ahmar, and provides a basis for removal of other Palestinian villages located on West Banks lands coveted by settlers and their allies. Specifically:

E1: As the EU understands very well, the evacuation of Khan El Ahmar is not only about the tragic fate of the residents themselves, who will be forcefully transferred to an area  that is problematic for myriad reasons, including its proximity to either a garbage dump or a wastewater site, and the fact that it will cut the community from its way of life and source of income. As we underlined several times in the past, the stubbornness, not to say the obsession, of the government of Israel with Khan Al Ahmar is mostly due to its location close to E1, within what is viewed by Israeli authorities as the “Maale Adumim bloc,” extending deep into the West Bank to include the settlement of Kfar Adumim.

As explained by Daniel Seidemann in an interview with +972 magazine:

“As dire and enormously problematic the situation of Khan al-Ahmar is, it would not have received the attention it received if it weren’t in E1, the area that will determine whether a viable, contiguous Palestinian state can exist or not. Khan al-Ahmar has become the humanitarian issue of the day. E1 has become the geopolitical issue of the last 23 years.

“Imagine that Jerusalem is at the center, and immediately to the east of Jerusalem in the West Bank, halfway between the Dead Sea, is Ma’ale Adumim, the third largest settlement in the West Bank with around 40,000 residents. It has been the intention of the Israeli government since the mid-90s, when Netanyahu was first in power, to build a massive land bridge between Ma’ale Adumim with tens of thousands of residential units. E1 is the quadrant between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim.”

The Court’s green light for the displacement of Khan al-Ahmar, alongside the start of the national electoral campaign, raises the risk that Prime Minister Netanyahu – always looking for a way to score points with the right and far-right – will decide to pursue push ahead with E-1 (the other grand scheme available in East Jerusalem is Givat Hamatos; the risk that he will move on that scheme is also serious). Netanyahu’s decision in this regard will very much depend on whether he fears a confrontation with leading European States more than he craves right-wing accolades, and/or whether he receives some indication from the US administration that these projects are still regarded as red lines that should not be crossed. Either way, international engagement clarifying the firmness of its stance on these issues, or the absence thereof, will be key to what happens next.

Additional displacements: It is not unprecedented in the post-1967 era for Israel to forcibly displace Palestinians (see: the displacement of Palestinian residents of the Old City’s Mughrabi Quarter in June 1967, Bedouin communities in the Rafa Salient in the 1970s, and other Jahalin Bedouin communities in the Maale Adumim area in the 1990s). However, it is hardly routine and does constitute an indication of an increasingly aggressive occupation. In that context, the High Court’s decision is worrying as it paves the way for additional displacements. Next in line are other Bedouin communities in that area, including Jabel Al Baba, as well as Susiya (in the southern Hebron hills), and Palestinian communities in areas targeted by the settlers in East Jerusalem (like Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al Hawa in Silwan – for recent developments see here).

A test for the European engagement and international law.  European states have been very active in trying to deter the government of Israel from proceeding with the eviction of Khan al-Ahmar, through both statements and visits to the area. As noted accurately by some press reports, the European campaign was timely, coherent, unified, and reportedly including a warning about potential consequences if Israel was to go ahead with the eviction. Yet, while their high level of engagement has been impressive, they have not managed so far to convince the government to walk back its decision. As a result, Europe is now facing a test and a moment of truth: if Netanyahu is permitted to carry out the eviction of Khan al-Ahmar without facing serious consequences, the credibility of the EU and European member states who led this campaign will be seriously harmed, both now and in the context of any future engagements. Hence, the imperative that there will be a robust and consequential response to the expected eviction of Khan Al Ahmar is linked not just to the fate of the village but will have direct implications on the government of Israel’s next steps, on the aggressiveness of its policy, and on the standing of Europe.