Israel: Illegal demolition and forcible transfer of Palestinian Bedouin village amounts to war crime

The Israeli authorities must immediately cancel plans to demolish the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar and the forcible eviction of the community living there, said Amnesty International, ahead of the anticipated arrival of bulldozers on 1 June after the demolition was authorized by Israel’s Supreme Court last week. 

Residents of the village are set to be transferred to a site near the former Jerusalem municipal garbage dump near the village of Abu Dis.

"Last week’s outrageous decision by the Supreme Court to allow the Israeli army to demolish the entire village of Khan al-Ahmar was a devastating blow to the families who have spent nearly a decade campaigning and fighting a legal battle to remain on their land and maintain their way of life. Going ahead with the demolition is not only cruel, it would also amount to forcible transfer, which is a war crime,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Magdalena Mughrabi.

The Israeli authorities have shattered thousands of Palestinian lives, exposing men, women and children to years of trauma and anxiety through their deeply discriminatory policy of first denying building permits, and then bulldozing people’s homes, schools, and herding structures
Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa

Khan al-Ahmar is inhabited by about 180 residents from the Jahalin Bedouin tribe. It is surrounded by several illegal Israeli settlements east of Jerusalem.

For more than 60 years, members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe have been struggling to maintain their way of life. Forced from their lands in the Negev/Naqab desert in the 1950s, they have been continually harassed, pressured and resettled by successive Israeli governments.

In late August 2017, Israeli Minister of Defence Avigdor Lieberman announced that the Israeli government would evacuate the entire community within several months. On 24 May, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of demolishing the entire village of Khan al Ahmar, including its school which is constructed from rubber tyre and provides education for some 170 children from five different Bedouin communities. 

The Court ruled that the village was built without relevant building permits, even though these are impossible for Palestinians to obtain in the Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank known as Area C.

"The Israeli authorities have shattered thousands of Palestinian lives, exposing men, women and children to years of trauma and anxiety through their deeply discriminatory policy of first denying building permits, and then bulldozing people’s homes, schools, and herding structures,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

“Instead of consistently punishing Palestinians for building without permits, the Israeli authorities must stop their construction and expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank as a first move towards removing Israeli civilians living in such settlements.”

“The Supreme Court’s ruling is extremely dangerous and may set a precedent for other communities that oppose Israeli plans to relocate them to urban centres. The Israeli authorities must abide by their international legal obligations and abandon any plans to forcibly transfer Khan al-Ahmar and any other communities."

Background

Khan al-Ahmar is located about two kilometres south of Kfar Adumin settlement in the occupied West Bank. The Bedouin community living there suffer from recurring Israeli settler violence, including on children, as well as attacks on their homes. The Israeli authorities have refused to connect the village to water and electricity supplies, and have restricted their grazing land.

Residents of Khan al-Ahmar have been fighting the standing demolition orders against buildings and structures, including the “tire school” since 2009. That same year, residents of the nearby Israeli settlements of Kfar Adumin, Alon and Nofei Prat have petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to allow the Israeli army to implement the standing demolition orders. 

Khan al-Ahmar is one of 46 Palestinian communities in the West Bank at risk of forcible transfer due to Israeli relocation plans and pressure on residents to leave. These communities are located in the area designated as Area C under the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In these areas, which make up more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank, the Israeli army retains complete control over security. The Israeli Civil Administration, a military body, controls planning and zoning.

The Israeli army recently declared new plans to demolish villages of Ein al-Hilweh and Umm Jamal in the Jordan Valley, Jabal al Baba, east of Jerusalem, and one-fifth of the buildings in the Palestinian village of Susiya, located in the South Hebron Hills.

Israel’s policies of settling Israeli civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, wantonly destroying property, and forcibly transferring Palestinians living under occupation violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and are war crimes listed in the statute of the International Criminal Court.

Since 1967, Israel has forcibly evicted and displaced entire communities and demolished more than 50,000 Palestinian homes and structures.