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The demolition of Khan al-Ahmar is more than just a war crime

While the imminent destruction of Khan al-Ahmar is an utmost humanitarian concern and quite possibly a war crime, many are overlooking the strategic importance of this tiny hamlet for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian activists and residents of Khan al-Ahmar block the path of Israeli security forces and bulldozers, as the latter tried to pave an access road to allow for the village's imminent demolition, July 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv)

Palestinian activists and residents of Khan al-Ahmar block the path of Israeli security forces and bulldozers, as the latter tried to pave an access road to allow for the village’s imminent demolition, July 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv)

The residents of Khan al-Ahmar have spent the past several weeks waiting for Israeli bulldozers to arrive to demolish their entire village and forcibly displace all 170 people who live there, a move that human rights organizations and some European governments say would constitute a war crime.

But while the humanitarian situation and legality of the demolition and displacement are of great concern, much of the media coverage and activism on Khan al-Ahmar has overlooked the strategic importance of this tiny hamlet.

Khan al-Ahmar is located in E1, the name of the 12 sq. kilometer area located between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. For decades, Israel has hoped to build up the area with settlements in order to connect the two cities. Doing so would bifurcate the West Bank, leading to what has been described over the years as the nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.

In a statement published late last week, the local European Union’s mission blasted Israel’s plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, along with the planned settlement construction in E1, saying they “exacerbate threats to the viability of the two-state solution and further undermine prospects for a lasting peace.”

“This is red flag for key members of the European Union,” explained Daniel Seidemann, an attorney and activist who runs the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem, and who has spent the last 20 years monitoring how the city’s changing landscape is making a political solution increasingly difficult. “Should it raze the village despite European engagement, Israel will likely suffer the consequences.”

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+972 spoke to Seidemann on Monday about why Netanyahu is willing to jeopardize so much for one tiny village, the geopolitical implications of E1, and how the Trump administration is likely to handle the crisis.

Khan al-Ahmar has been at the focus of the world’s attention for the past few weeks. Why is the Israeli government so intent on displacing such a small community?

“That’s the $64,000 question. Khan al-Ahmar has recently exploded on the front pages, but it has been simmering with a great deal of attention under the radar for a number of years, so much so that if you wake up European heads of state at 3 a.m. and ask them what is Khan al-Ahmar, they’d be able to give you an answer. What those heads of state have been telling Israeli leaders is that forcibly displacing a civilian population under occupation is a war crime. You haven’t committed that war crime yet, so don’t do it. We can’t defend you doing it, so don’t go there.”

Residents of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar look on as a bulldozer paves an access road to be used by Israeli forces in the imminent demolition of the West Bank hamlet, July 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv)

Residents of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar look on as a bulldozer paves an access road to be used by Israeli forces in the imminent demolition of the West Bank hamlet, July 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv)

“The question becomes why Israel wants to jeopardize so much. There were 12 consul generals in the village last week. Why risk all of that for a small encampment? It is clear that this was a fixation that was coming from the higher echelons in Israel. That it was coming from Netanyahu. Khan al-Ahmar could not have taken place without the consent and support of the prime minister.”

Khan al-Ahmar is located in the highly problematic area known as E1, in between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Why is that significant?

“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.”

In a 2012 paper, your organization said that E1, “if built, it is a game-changer, maybe a game-ender” for the two-state solution. Can you explain that?

“From the moment Ma’ale Adumim was established, it was viewed as a doomsday settlement, since it could destroy the possibility of a two-state solution, since it would dismember, fragment, and fracture any potential Palestinian state, and would divide the West Bank between a northern canton of Ramallah and a southern canton of Bethlehem and Hebron.

“There is a reason every administration until Trump has opposed building there. When Ariel Sharon started construction there in 2004, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stopped him after major infighting in the White House over whether to engage.”

Palestinian activists build a structure from stones and mud in the Bab al Shams protest camp in the E1 area, West Bank, March 22, 2013. (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinian activists build a structure from stones and mud in a protest camp built to protest planned settlement construction in the E1 area, West Bank, March 22, 2013. (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Netanyahu tried to build there a few years ago but buckled to international pressure. Is the government now laying the groundwork now that Trump is in the White House?

“Netanyahu proceeded on E1 on November 30, 2012 in retaliation for the acceptance of Palestine as a non-member observer state in the UN General Assembly. International pressure managed to stop the building, and since then it has not proceeded. Now I believe there is pressure from his government to proceed on E1, and what we are witnessing is Netanyahu doing everything except proceeding. Instead, what we’re seeing is every possible preparation.

“From the Israeli point of view, E1 is an important piece of real estate. For Palestinians, it is a devastating piece of real estate. But regardless, it is the most contested piece of real estate in the West Bank, especially as it pertains to future permanent status borders. So when the Americans when would weigh in they wouldn’t say ‘this isn’t Palestine, keep your hands off.’ They’d say, ‘you want E1? Great. It’s a permanent status issue, negotiate over it and do not dictate the outcome.’

“The folks in Khan al-Ahmar fell into Netanyahu’s crosshairs by being present in an area over which there is a titanic contest. You also have the most compelling embodiment of a war crime, and this is a particularly vulnerable population as well. So you take the geopolitical implications of E1 and the stark humanitarian implications of Khan al-Ahmar, you put the two of them together and you get the perfect storm for BDS.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House, April 14, 2004. (White House Photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House, April 14, 2004. (White House Photo)

Is the current action a result of Trump’s complete lack of engagement on the issue? What else can we expect as a result?

“I have personally heard two things from high-ranking members of the administration. One view is that E1 doesn’t trouble the Palestinians, they can drive around. The second view is that Trump has not changed U.S. policy on E1.

“As for Khan al-Ahmar, it’s impossible to know whether the demolition will take place or not. What I can tell you is a gut feeling that Khan al-Ahmar is going to be pivotal one way or the other. If the demolition is stopped, it is clear that the only reason is because of serious, consequential, articulate international engagement by the key capitals in Europe. That is a lesson that will be noted both in Jerusalem as well as in Europe. As problematic as he may be, Netanyahu can be engaged and can be deterred.

“The second scenario is he goes ahead with the demolition anyway, in which case the message will be loud and clear: who needs London, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels when we have Warsaw and Budapest?”

Members of the ‘Clown Army’ confront Israeli security forces during a solidarity protest in the Palestinian village of Susya, June 22, 2012. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Members of the ‘Clown Army’ confront Israeli security forces during a solidarity protest in the Palestinian village of Susya, June 22, 2012. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Why is this different than Susya, for instance, where the village was able to stave off an impending demolition with the support of the international community?

“I think Susiya was a dress rehearsal for Khan al-Ahmar. But annexing Susiya, which I am not advocating in any way, would not undermine the viability of a Palestinian state. In Khan al-Ahmar you have an alchemy of taking a hugely powerful humanitarian issue that compels you to look in black-and-white terms, harnessed to the geopolitical drama of E1, which is clearly going to be one of the most contested issues in any future negotiations. Taking the geopolitical and the humanitarian at the peak of their power is an act of nuclear fusion.”

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      Here’s a lovely detail from the Rebuilding Alliance:

      http://www.rebuildingalliance.org/khan-al-ahmar-fact-sheet/

      “The village was given seven days to demolish their own community, brick-by-brick, including their homes, school, mosque, and medical clinic.”

      Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          @Ido: Since 1967 how many Palestinian homes has Israel demolished? What’s the number?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            Please be specific. Homes of terrorists who murdered Jews ? homes used to hide terror tunnels and weapons smuggling ? houses used as sniper cover ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            In my view an evasive answer like this only shows you know you are peddling the unsupportable. ‘Woody Allen,’ above has the true answer.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            Oh yes, pointing out the missing details regarding Khan al-Akhmar, that are absent from the article for some reason and asking a guy who said something to be specific is “peddling the unsupportable”. Are you “paraphrasing” again ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I’m not interested in who or what you think ‘Woody Allen’ is. I’m interested in the facts he linked to:

            Israel has Demolished 48,000 Palestinian Homes Since 1967
            Feb, 27, 2017 | By Camilia Aaliyah
            https://www.welcometopalestine.com/article/israeli-demolitions-palestinian-homes/

            Now, you haven’t refuted that because you can’t. What you have done instead is, true to form, evaded it in one post; in another linked to the “gatestone institute’s” disinformation and propaganda, all of it severe distortions and far right extremist contentions, none of it facts, even by your notoriously elastic concept (so for that reason, that it’s propaganda not facts, it is “missing from the article,” to answer your bewilderment); and sprayed this concoction with a heavy dose of ad hominems.
            This is settled to my satisfaction and I will not reply further here, unless I feel like it, which I probably won’t.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            I responded to what he said and explained how the situation regarding the article in question is different.
            I am interested in what Woody Allen is because showing how he is an Anti-Zionist conspiracy nutjob puts what he will say in context. Similar to you he most of the time has no clue what he’s talking about.
            He is right about the houses situation in the West Bank, which I’m not supporting as I said in my response, but like you he ignored the situation in the place mentioned in the article.
            “Now, you haven’t refuted that because you can’t” – why are you lying again ? where have I said I refuted it ? please, point it out.
            “evaded it in one post” – nope, I was very, very specific. I posted about a specific place, the one mentioned in the article. Some houses demolitions are justified, many other are not.
            “disinformation and propaganda” – please by all means, which fact is wrong ? out of context ?

            ” your notoriously elastic concept” – hilarious coming from someone who I proved so many times is a clueless liar who has no idea what he’s talking about. I’ll post the evidence again in the Facebook section.
            “that it’s propaganda not facts, it is missing from the article” – wrong again. Who the people in that settlement are exactly and how they got there, how they are no different from similar illegal bedouin settlements in that area who were moved and how they
            are important to the Palestinian plan I mentioned is quite relevant.
            “heavy dose of ad hominems” – Again: you don’t seem to know what that phrase means. it means attacking the poster and not his argument. I did the exact opposite. How hard is it to grasp this ? calling you a liar and then providing a huge amount of evidence for it (see the Facebook comments section) is not Ad Hominem.
            “This is settled to my satisfaction and I will not reply further here” – As always, I love it when you end with a joke. How about addressing the lists of your lies, mistakes and clueless nonsense I just posted in the Facebook comments section ?

            Reply to Comment
    2. itshak Gordin Halevy

      In a modern country, can anyone build anything without permission? No, of course. But some, for shameful reasons, think Israel should be the exception.

      Reply to Comment
      • Jonny

        It’s not in Israel though is it …

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordin Halevy

          You are mistaken. According to the Jewish tradition Judea and Samaria are a part of the Jewish heritage.

          Reply to Comment
          • tom

            Maybe, (it’s also part of the christian, muslim, cananean, babylonian, assyrian roman, byzantin, omeyade, mamelouk, turkish, english jordanian, palestinian etc. heritage)
            but according to international laws, it’s occupied territories

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordin Halevy

            Tom, you forget History. Judea and Samaria are non-status territories. First of all, they have never been part of any “Palestinian state” which in fact has never existed in History. (May I remind that nobody heard about the “palestinian People” before the 60s). Then these lands were illegally annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom on April 24, 1950, annexation recognized in 1951 by the United Kingdom and Pakistan only. The Hashemite Kingdom lost this territory following its aggression of 1967. It is a territory without a defined status. According to the Oslo agreements signed by Arafat and Rabin, its status was to be settled by the discussion between the two parties. The Oslo agreements did not prohibit Israel from developing this area. In the opinion of many experts, Zone C will remain under Israeli control even if there is an agreement with the Ramalla entity.

            Reply to Comment
          • tom

            You should start checking the international status of thoses territories : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_territories and check all the UN résolutions related to this issue.

            You can desaprove the UN résolutions and the Geneva convention, but according to the international laws, forcible transfer of population and implementation of jewish settlments in occupied territories are ilegal.

            Reply to Comment
      • Tom

        Again, same stupid arguments, in a modern country, people can get building permit on their land !

        Palestinian living in Area C has no other choice to build without permit than being transfered to palestinian bantoustan…. Israelis DO NOT give permits in area C if you are arab!

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordin Halevy

          You are wrong. I am Swiss of origin and in this country it is impossible to build where we want. We must respect a partial assignment plan. If anyone in Israel feels discriminated, he can appeal to the Supreme Court to review his case. Concerning these people, they settled on land they do not own. It is a land that is under the control of the government.

          Reply to Comment
          • Tom

            How many permit has been delivered by palestinian living in area C ? When you talk about “assignment plan” what does it mean ? an appartheid plan where palestinian are not allowed to build in area C ?

            The residents of Khan al Ahmar were forcibly relocated from the village of Tel Arad in Israel’s Negev Desert in 1951. They leased the land that they now live on from a private Palestinian landowner in Anata until it was expropriated and declared State land in 1975, zoned for the establishment of an industrial zone and later for the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordin Halevy

            According to the Oslo agreements signed by Yasser Arafat, The area C is under Israeli control. Israel can manage this sparsely populated area. This unhealthy village was built without authorization in violation of the law. Whoever is not happy can contact the Supreme Court which ruled. All the rest is only blah blah

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Jonny and Tom are exactly right and obviously and effectively puncture your nonsense, Halevy.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tom

            pfff… The oslo agreement was signed 17 years ago “temporary” (5years).
            They did not agree than Area C are part of Israel, and authorize the transfer palestinian population !

            The suprem court is not neutral, it’s support the state of Israel and its racist laws. What can they do when Israel government take a palestinian private land to declare it “state land”. Does it make it fair ?

            Again we are talking about, people living in the area since 50 years after have been transfer from the Negev

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordin Halevy

            I have never heard of any Canaanite, Roman, Turkish or Byzantine claims on Judea and Samaria that bear a Hebrew name. The Jordanians gave up these lands in the 90s. The Hashemite Kingdom had also illegally annexed these lands in 1951. Israel lives on these sparsely populated lands and develops them. And this is the most important. As for expropriations, they happen in all civilized countries. In my native Switzerland, the state expropriates landowners to build roads, etc. And these are people who have a title. Without title, an individual has no rights anywhere in the world.

            Reply to Comment
          • tom

            you’re mixing everything and make it confuse.
            – This land has a long history, shared by a lot of différents type of people, it’s part of the jewish history, but also part of the history of all other people that has lived in west bank

            – Now, Israel administrate the land, but regarding the nternational laws, the are are “occupied territories” so according to internation laws, the occupition entity can’t force a transfer of the population

            Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      Relevant and breaking news about the settlement issue – the New Yorker has run a piece called “The Maps of Israeli Settlements That Shocked Barack Obama”:

      https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-map-of-israeli-settlements-that-shocked-barack-obama?mbid

      Kerry met regularly with Obama in the Oval Office. During one of those meetings, Kerry placed the maps on a large coffee table, one after another, so Obama and his advisers could study them. Ben Rhodes, one of Obama’s longest-serving advisers, said the President was shocked to see how “systematic” the Israelis had been at cutting off Palestinian population centers from one another.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The ridiculous thing is that it takes until the spring of 2015 for the US to simply wake up to what is really going on? And then it goes nowhere? Hello?? That is willfully practiced ignorance and absolutely strange submissiveness. And simply for waking up, Obama gets vilified and smeared and treated with appalling disrespect and ingratitude by the Israelis. Historians will look back in wonder at the amazing exploitative, corrupting grip one tiny state had on a superpower.

        Reply to Comment
        • Reality Check

          When you speak of “exploitative, corrupting grip one tiny state” surely you meant how this small, despicable group of people with big noses control the media, the economy, the apparatus of state in almost all counties except for brave Iran, Syria and Gaza.
          Time to come out of the closet and reveal your true feelings.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @RealityCheck: Not at all. And it’s a good point to clarify. Many right wing defenders of Israel, such as yourself, routinely accuse its critics of being anti-Semitic or self-hating Jews. But the Jewish people are not the same as the state of Israel. This is a distinction you like many people fail to make, and, in a way, who can blame you since it seems that you and many right wing commenters here are following the lead of the hypernationalist current state of Israel and it current Prime Minister, which, in an unprecedented fashion at odds with past Israeli policy, encourage the total identification of the two. Simply read the commenters here. This specific tendency of right wing people does stereotype Jews and does encourage anti-Semitism. But I’m not. I’m working towards the opposite conclusion. Do you understand?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @RealityCheck: Not at all. And it’s a good point to clarify. Many right wing defenders of Israeli behavior, such as yourself, routinely accuse its critics of being anti-Semitic or self-hating Jews. But the Jewish people are not the same as the state of Israel. This is a distinction you like many people fail to make, and, in a way, who can blame you since it seems that you and many right wing commenters here are following the lead of the hypernationalist current state of Israel and it current Prime Minister, which, in an unprecedented fashion at odds with past Israeli policy, encourage the total identification of the two. Simply read the commenters here. This specific tendency of right wing people does stereotype Jews and does encourage anti-Semitism. But I’m not. I’m working towards the opposite conclusion. Do you understand?

            Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordin Halevy

        To my knowledge, neither the current President nor the US Congress are shocked. The Obama presidency has been a disaster for US allies.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          The current US President is not shocked to grab strangers by the pussy (his words not mine), pay stripper-prostitutes hush money, routinely cheat people who work for him, declare bankruptcy three times, exhibit extreme narcissistic-antisocial traits, serve as a de facto undercover agent for America’s enemy Russia, destroy crucial alliances with Europe including Nato, say all manner of stupid things his aides have to walk back, tear small children from their parents at the border, call Mexicans rapists, exhibit all manner of racism…I could go on for pages. An embodiment of demagoguery, stupidity, crassness, heartlessness and cruelty.

          I fully understand why you and other Israelis find kinship and fellow feeling with this sort of person, however. Really I do. The tearing of immigrant children from parents and their indefinite detention without trial is right up your alley.

          The remark about Obama being a disaster for allies is first of all made up, pulled out of thin Israeli right wing air. (Only you, Halevy could, in the context of what Trump just did to European allies at the NATO conference, say it was Obama who was a disaster for allies.)
          And secondly, it presumes Israel is a genuine ally of the US. I dispute that.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            20 tents, a few concrete shacks and a trendy Arabic name does not constitute “a village”.
            These JORDANIANS need to move out to allow their VICTIMS (the Israelis) to build their homes.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You sound like the despotic Herod the Great. Making despotic royal pronouncements. Who anointed you? Unfortunately, Lewis of Afula, you’re not a Roman client king of the Jews and not even a US client king. It’s a couple thousand years later and international law since 1945 is in effect and the lives of human beings matter and occupied persons are protected persons. With good reason. (You have not yet answered ‘Yeah, Right’ as to why it is that your logic does not lead to the conclusion that the Warsaw Ghetto wasn’t under German military occupation):
            https://972mag.com/the-gaza-siege-isnt-about-security-its-collective-punishment-pure-and-simple/136675/

            That Russian criminals (Stalin then, Putin now) have flouted the laws and have tried their best to undermine international law and order in favor of their despotic regimes is not an argument FOR what you say, it is an argument AGAINST what you say. Explain to me again why it is that Israelis are entitled to a free pass on despotism?
            The Americans including the Republicans are quite upset with Trump for being Putin’s imbecilic Putin-validating poodle. They are not saying yes to despotism. They should however treat Israelis differently than Russians? Again, why is that?

            Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      Just caught this bullshit from up above (by Geller). It’s hard to keep up with the flood:

      “This small cluster of Bedouin homes is actually sitting on land in an Israeli township, Kfar Adumim…Unfortunately… a strategically critical area…From the day the Jahalin set up camp on this spot, they knew that they were squatting inside an Israeli municipality….”

      Whoah there, fellah. Another “fact” that is not a fact. Sorry, Kfar Adumim is neither an “Israeli township” nor an “Israeli municipality.” It’s an illegal settlement on belligerently occupied territory outside Israeli territory. That’s a fact. It is the settlers of Kfar Adumim who are the illegal squats.

      Gotta love the fraudulence of “I’m in favor of dismantling West Bank settlements …but the situation in Khan al-Akhmar is nothing like that… ”

      This is contradictory bullshit personified. The actual facts detailed in more links than anyone will ever need is that Kfar Adumim is a settlement in occupied territory, and whatever else it is it is most definitely not “an Israeli township.” It is an illegal settlement that needs to be dismantled or the jig is up. Gotta love that “strategically critical area”—it sure is. That “strategically critical area” is indeed strategically critical for the settlers and the Israeli occupation machine closing off and annexing and sealing off the E1-Ma’aleh Adumim-Jerusalem region and strangling a Palestinian State, dividing it into bantustans. Hence deemed worthy of a war crime to accomplish the necessary strategic ethnic cleansing.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Bob Lovell

      This has to happen if Israel is in reality a sovereign Nation. If there were a ruminant of people in the United States who claimed citizenship to another country, they would have to go! Israel is such a small Nation, actually the size of Rhode Island! Before 1948 the area was an overgrazed desert. There were no trees and no intelligent using of the land to speak of. Israel will become the “Land of Milk and Honey” if it can stay out of the grasp of the Palestinians long enough. The more foliage the more transpiration and the more rain. Lets face it, Israel is an oasis in the midst of people who spend every dime given them on arms and weapons! Where Israel ends and Palestine starts is like a water line on a ship! Israel is the only democratic government in the Middle East! I’m not Jewish, but it it is the only country I would feel safe in in the whole area!

      Reply to Comment
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