Khan al-Ahmar, Demolitions and International Support

This text was originally published in Swedish as an opinion piece in newspaper Dagen (LINK).

On the Sunday February 19 the Israeli Civil Administration arrived to Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian Bedouin community in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem. Almost every home and structure in the village was given a piece of paper notifying their owners of their impending demolition. Also the village school, serving 170 students from the surrounding Bedouin communities, is set for demolition. As of February 12 the demolitions can be carried out at any moment, leaving the village under imminent threat of demolition and 140 residents at risk of losing their homes and livelihoods.

The people of Khan al-Ahmar are not alone in this vulnerable state, however. The past years have shown an intensified campaign of demolitions of Palestinian homes and structure which have not received permits from the Israeli Civil Administration.

17454891_10154148904341266_2120746456_oPhotography: S Magnusson

During 2016, 1093 buildings and structures were demolished, causing 1600 Palestinians to lose their homes and affecting the livelihoods of 7000 people. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs close to 30% of these structures were financed through international humanitarian assistance.

In 2016 almost twice as many demolitions were carried out as the year before, and almost four times as many as 2006. The first six weeks of 2017 indicate that demolitions are being carried out at, at least, the same alarming rate as last year. Although house demolitions have constituted an near inherent aspect of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, these numbers show a deeply disturbing trend.

Khan al-Ahmar is one of the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank. When Stop Work orders (initial demolition orders) were distributed in the village on February 12, residents were informed that they would have no other choice than to move to one of the ‘relocation sites’ which have been by Israeli authorities. Examples of past relocations of Bedouin communities in the area exist.

“Raising our voices for the most foundational of rights – the right to housing, education, and water – is now particularly important.”

The Bedouin in the area were put under particular pressure as the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement complex east of Jerusalem intensified in the 1990s. Between 1997 and 2007, three forced evictions of Bedouin communities were carried out. Residents were forcibly transferred to al-Jabal, a highly limited area which highly restricted the traditional and culturally distinct livelihoods practices and way of life which Palestinian Bedouin are struggling to maintain. Directly bordering the al-Jabal site is the largest waste dump in the West Bank, primarily serving the needs of the city of Jerusalem. 

In addition to the unacceptable direct humanitarian consequences of – by implementing house demolitions and property confiscations – making the residents homeless and denying children their right to education, implementation of the demolition orders would constitute violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, articles 46 and 53. Furthermore, a case of forcible transfer, where the residents are relocated without their free and informed consent, would constitute a grave breach of article 49 of the Convention.

In situations where foundational human rights are at risk, we have seen individuals and groups from all parts stand together: Palestinians, Israelis, and the international community. As an Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), I spend a large portion of time in the village of Yanoun, located in the northern West Bank. After a period of sustained threats and harassment perpetrated by Israeli settlers from the outposts of the Itamar settlement which surround the village, the residents of Yanoun were forced to abandon their village in the autumn of 2002 (see archive footage HERE). The reaction from Israelis and the international community was, however, firm and direct (read more about the Yanoun story HERE).

A Palestinian-Israeli grassroots organisation arrived to the village in able to increase the safety and enable residents to slowly return to the village. And the village welcomed Jewish rabbis and Israeli cultural icons, such as Amos Oz (see archive footage HERE). It is through the close and daily cooperation between Palestinians, Israelis and international networks that the village still exists today, 15 years later.

We have also seen that, when Palestinians, Israelis, and the international community unite against discriminatory practices against Bedouins and other vulnerable groups, large-scale demolitions and forced transfers can be prevented or temporarily postponed. This occurred, for example, in the village of Susiya in the summer of 2015, through broad and large-scale international and diplomatic action.

As a consequence of the new American presidency and a politically powerful settlement movement, the state of insecurity for vulnerable communities like Khan al-Ahmar has intensified. Raising our voices for the most foundational of rights – the right to housing, education, and water, is now particularly important. The demolition of Khan al-Ahmar needs to be prevented.

Erik Svanberg has been in Israel and Palestine on assignment by the Swedish Church Council and the World Council of Churches, through the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, EAPPI. The opinions expressed above are personal and are not necessarily shared by these organisations.

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