UPDATED on 8 February: The Israeli Supreme Court has granted an extension until 2 April, not 1 June as requested by the government.
Jerusalem24 – Not for the first time, the Palestinian Bedouin village of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank has found itself in the local (and international) spotlight, the scene of a political tug-of-war between Israeli politicians with differing priorities.
The 170-strong community appeared at risk of imminent forcible displacement when it was announced on 21 January that far-right extremist and Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir would call for the demolition of the village in retaliation for an Israeli Defense Ministry decision to evacuate an illegal Israeli outpost against the wishes of Ben-Gvir.
Palestinian pundits and activists have been speculating that communities such as Al-Khan Al-Ahmar and Masafer Yatta will find themselves becoming the foremost victims of the Netanyahu administration’s intensifying war on Palestinians in Area C.
But on 1 February, when the Israeli government was mandated to explain to the Israeli Supreme Court why it hadn’t yet enforced a 2018 ruling to demolish the village, the government requested an extension until 1 June to implement the evacuation and demolition, commenting they nevertheless “remain firm” in their commitment to do so.
This is the ninth extension requested by the Israeli government in delaying the evacuation since 2018.
The 32 families of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar (the ‘Red Caravanserai’, so named because it stood on the route between Jerusalem and Mecca for Muslim pilgrims from the 13th century onwards) originally hail from Tel Arad in the Naqab desert, which Israel seized during its creation in 1948.
The Israeli military forcibly expelled the tribe to lands near East Jerusalem in the 1950s, from which they were once again expelled in the 1990s when Israel also seized those lands for the expansion of the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
On 24 May 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the village could be demolished and the community forcibly displaced. The ruling facilitated a long-term Israeli settlement plan, dubbed ‘E1’, which would effectively cut the occupied West Bank into north and south and prevent any contiguity for a future Palestinian state.
Al-Khan al-Ahmar is one of 18 Bedouin communities surrounding East Jerusalem which the United Nations considers at risk of forcible displacement because they are located in or next to an area slated by Israel for illegal Israeli settlement expansion.
Around 170 individuals now comprise the community, including over 90 children.
“Consequences” for Israel’s foreign relations
Netanyahu’s administration requested the delay on the technicality that the new ministers required more time to familiarize themselves with “the details” of the case than the month they have been in office. A delay was granted by the Supreme Court in October on similar grounds pending the November general elections – a justification frequently employed as five separate governments have succeeded each other in Israel since the 2018 ruling.
In demanding the current extension, the Israeli state prosecution also claimed the case is being monitored by “various international actors”, which has “consequences for Israel’s foreign relations and security at this time.”
The village received frequent visits by international delegations and was the subject of many international press reports throughout 2018, preceding and following the Supreme Court ruling.
The United Nations, the European Union, the International Criminal Court, and Amnesty International, all cautioned at the time that the forcible displacement of the residents could amount to a war crime.
“A much bigger danger”
Whether or not the residents of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar end up being forcibly displaced in June, they and other Palestinians “are under a much bigger danger”, according to Palestinian with Israeli citizenship and former Member of Knesset Sami Abu Shehadeh.
“The four parties that established the Israeli government are all different kinds of extreme-right, and now they are competing among themselves [to see] who is more right-wing,” Abu Shehadeh tells Jerusalem24. “And in the Israeli case, who is more right-wing means who is more hostile, who is more violent, who hates more any Palestinian, Arab citizen – and who is ready to do much more violence towards the Palestinians.”
Even the Israeli legal system finds itself complicit in this state violence against Palestinians, claims Abu Shehadeh.
“First of all, the fact that the Supreme Court in Israel allows itself to get involved in the West Bank is totally illegal,” he says, explaining that the Israeli Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the West Bank as an occupied territory.
“The whole thing full of contradictions. Just the fact that they are discussing the issue says that they are dealing legitimately with the Israeli occupation. If they do so, they are not an objective party that you can deal with.”
Abu Shehadeh reckons there are far more communities at risk than just Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, Masafer Yatta, or occupied East Jerusalem. The Netanyahu administration has so far been delivering on its promise to step up demolitions and land seizures for illegal Israeli settlements’ benefit.
The government’s overall policy of settlement-expansion does not differ from its predecessors – but the timeline in implementation seems to be taking a dramatic shift.
“In Israel, the extremists are not a small marginal community that is not influential,” says Abu Shehadeh. “In Israel, these extremists are ministers in the Israeli government, and these people have their political agenda published.”
“And they say they want to destroy totally the idea of the two-state solution. They say they want to wipe the Green Line [off the map].”
As in the case of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, or Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem, international pressure (as well as internal political struggles) may push Israel to hold off on its more controversial forcible displacement projects. But Abu Shehadeh warns that that pressure and condemnation alone will not be enough to contain a more dire outcome.
“If the international arena wants to stop this, they have to take into consideration that Israel must be held responsible for what they are doing,” he says. “Otherwise, and without making them pay a price for their terror and their crime, things can become much more violent.”