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Khan al-Ahmar: Setting the record straight

The story of Khan al-Ahmar has been told countless times in the media in recent months. The way it is being told, however, is chock full of misconceptions. Here’s the real story behind the embattled village.

By Angela Godfrey-Goldstein

A structure used to house a family in the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, West Bank, February 23, 2017. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

A structure used to house a family in the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, West Bank, February 23, 2017. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

The village of Khan al-Ahmar, home to 193 Palestinian Bedouins and a school, is under the very real and imminent threat of demolition and forcible displacement by Israeli authorities. Israel wants to remove Khan al-Ahmar to facilitate its “E-1” development plan, which envisions 3,910 housing units for Israelis and over 2,000 hotel rooms, and which would connect the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim to East Jerusalem. The separation wall would then be built around that bloc, with Greater Jerusalem “Judaized” and the viability of a Palestinian state jeopardized.

The story of Khan al-Ahmar has been told countless times in the media in recent months as the Israeli High Court gave a green light to the demolition. The following months saw activists prepare for and fight what seemed like an imminent demolition. Then, as international pressure was ratcheted up, the Israeli government put the demolition on hold. The way that story has been told, however, is chock full of misconceptions.

Misconception 1: The High Court ordered the evacuation and demolition.

This falsity is propagated by Prime Minister Netanyahu. He stated: “This is a Court decision, this [evacuation and demolition] is our policy and it will be carried out.” Actually, the Israeli High Court stated that since the structures bear no permits they may be demolished, while leaving the decision to the state, but that the Bedouin may not be forcibly displaced, if they choose not to move.

Israeli policemen arrest a Palestinian protester, as demonstrators try to prevent an Israeli army bulldozer from laying the groundwork for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, West Bank, July 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli policemen arrest a Palestinian protester, as demonstrators try to prevent an Israeli army bulldozer from laying the groundwork for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, West Bank, July 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

To date, the Bedouin have rejected “offers” to be relocated next to a garbage dump, or alternatively, a sewage farm. The issue impacts not only those few Bedouins: tens of thousands of Palestinians are now threatened with demolitions in Area C of the West Bank — under full Israeli military control — which the ruling could negatively impact.

Misconception 2: The Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar built illegally on state lands.

This frequent claim, that the Bedouin “built illegally on state lands” (since the 1950s) ignores the fact that the land is privately owned by Palestinians in Anata – a claim supported by the Israeli army which, earlier this year, issued temporary expropriation orders to those land owners for the construction of service roads to facilitate Khan al-Ahmar’s demolition. The Bedouins’ lawyer, Tawfiq Jabareen, told the court those lands were subject to expropriation proceedings in the 1970s, but which were never formalized, arguing that the ownership remains with the Palestinians.

The Bedouin residents of Khan al-Ahmar, refugees from the Negev in 1951, possess a lease from those Palestinian landowners.

As to the status of the Bedouin, despite a common misconception, they are not nomads. Traditionally landowners, moving seasonally as semi-nomads on their own desert lands, Negev Bedouins have been prevented by Israel from submitting their land deeds to the Israel Lands Authority; they are then accused of squatting on their own lands, at risk of being moved, to facilitate the myth of a land without people. Moreover, attorney Jabareen showed the Israeli army’s planning committee a Jordanian map that designated the zoning of the area as “desert lands,” which under the land laws applying to the area, would actually require no building permits.

Misconception 3: The residents of Khan al-Ahmar are being unreasonable

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar have submitted a master plan proposing a move away from the highway, which Israeli authorities have refused to review. One of Israel’s arguments about why Khan al-Ahmar must be demolished is that it is too close to the highway.

Dozens of schoolchildren from the Khan al-Ahmar eco-school demonstrate outside the president's residence in Jerusalem, demanding Chancellor Angela Merkel intervene and prevent Israel from demolishing their school, October 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Dozens of schoolchildren from the Khan al-Ahmar eco-school demonstrate outside the president’s residence in Jerusalem, demanding Chancellor Angela Merkel intervene and prevent Israel from demolishing their school, October 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Having built the school in 2009, the Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar voluntarily moved its playground and toilet block in 2012 when the highway was built: a road engineer had promised to re-route the road so it wasn’t close to the school, which never happened.

There are numerous reports that the residents of Khan al-Ahmar are being “unreasonable” for refusing to move just 200 meters, but in reality that is not an offer that was ever made to them. They did research moving the village and its homes 500 meters but a planned Israeli highway would preclude that move, and the ownership of the land there is also problematic.

The presence of the Bedouin in Khan al-Ahmar is currently protecting contiguity between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, making them, for many, gatekeepers of the two-state solution. Demolishing their village and forcibly displacing them into urban developments would not only constitute potential war crimes, a situation being closely watched by the International Criminal Court prosecutor, doing so would also put the residents’ desert culture at great risk of disappearing.

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein is the co-director of Jahalin Solidarity.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      The so-called “village” is nothing more than a dozen tents, several cars, a pile of junk and a few EU-funded beduin criminals that mill around the place. The place constitutes am ugly eyesore im the heart of Judea.

      Repatriation of the illegal JORDANIAN squatters back to the Amman region must be the only logical outcome.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-councillors-in-israeli-town-of-afula-vow-city-must-stay-jewish-1.6682366

        Israeli City of Afula Vows to ‘Preserve Jewish Character’

        ‘We must proudly identify with the State of Israel, its values, its Declaration of Independence,’ said Itai Cohen, a city council member who in the past rallied against sale of houses to Arabs…Elkabetz was the city’s mayor from 2013 to 2015 and the municipal park was built during his tenure. In this year’s municipal election campaign, he participated in demonstrations against the sale of homes to Arabs in the predominantly Jewish city.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Cohen and Elkabetz sound almost as stupid as the first commenter here. Is there something in the water up there in Afula? The public health authorities ought to check.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Khan Al-Ahmar is the occupation in microcosm and the occupation in a kind of climactic showdown. The dishonesties of the Israeli occupation come to light in this article that gets behind the scenes like nothing else. Any number of tossed off dismissive comments and “everybody knows” misconceptions about Khan Al-Ahmar are shown to be wrong. Really the entire occupation is built on lies and deceptions.

      There is absolutely NO publication bringing these long buried truths to light, against a massive tide of disinformation and neglect, like +972 Magazine. It is a rare gem. Please help these extremely dedicated and hardworking journalists and activists meet their modest funding drive goal. Please donate today. For the very reasons I describe, exactly because they are so independent and honest and uncorrupted, they depend on your freely given contributions, and they make those contributions go so far:
      https://972mag.com/crowdfund/

      Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordine

        Until now, you have been leaning on fanciful leftist theories completely contradicted by history. You are now turning into a fundraiser.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          +972 Magazine needs and deserves crowdfunding precisely because it is not fanciful and it is not corrupted. Its articles are based on on-the-ground, incredibly authentic and credible reports by Israelis, not on lies, not on kitschy biblical Disney World fantasies about real estate deeds bestowed upon the royal Halevy line from Mt. Sinai at the expense of millions of human beings deprived of basic human rights. +972 tells the real story like no other publication does, and that is why you are hostile to it.

          Reply to Comment