PALESTINIANS PROTESTING at Khan Al-Ahmar.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Once again, the usual international chorus against Israel is flaring up, this time due to an Israeli government decision to implement a judicial ruling for the relocation of a small group of squatters from Khan al-Ahmar, a compound built illegally near Jerusalem. If the matter didn’t concern the rule of law and the well-being of these people themselves, it could be written off as just another instance of Palestinian and international cynicism. But someone needs to speak up for common sense and reason.
Khan al-Ahmar is a cluster of makeshift shacks erected illegally by members of the Jahalin Abu-Dahuk Bedouin tribe, which houses some 28 families, comprising about 135 people. The compound is situated precariously close to the adjacent highway, presenting an imminent safety hazard to its residents. In particular, the proximity of its makeshift school to the road poses an ongoing threat to the children who attend it. Like other illegal compounds built in a haphazard sprawl, with no basic infrastructure or planning, the living conditions are poor, the health risks many and the future bleak.
The predicament of the residents is actually part of a much broader challenge in ensuring 21st-century health and living standards and infrastructure for nomadic communities, which typically need to be relocated to areas where such infrastructure can be provided reliably and feasibly. This is the case elsewhere in the world where governments must address the needs of such communities.
To this end, for many years Israel has engaged in prolonged contact with the residents of Khan al-Ahmar to achieve agreed-upon solutions for their relocation to a nearby area, where their basic needs can be adequately met. This would include the free allocation of generous plots of land, provision of a proper water supply and sewage infrastructure, proper telecommunications and safe electrical connectivity, and the construction of a school.
Unfortunately, swept up in the irresponsibility of a cynical Palestinian leadership, which has seized upon the issue as a gold mine for vilifying Israel, the residents have thus far refused. In doing so, they continue to expose themselves and their children to serious health and safety hazards, preferring continued destitution to achieving a genuine improvement in their situation. European and other countries that have come out against Israel on the matter are doing the residents of Khan al-Ahmar no favor.
As has become too common when it comes to Israel, we again hear tired claims of illegality. Israel’s High Court of Justice only recently ruled on the legality of the relocation, after a lengthy legal process in which the residents petitioned the Court. Despite the issue’s urgency, successive Israeli governments, in meticulous respect of due process and separation of powers, were blocked for years from implementing governmental policy. This is the very same court that is broadly praised when it comes to relocating Jewish residents from their homes.
As to those who would question the integrity of Israel’s judiciary, few accusations are more spurious or more easily refuted. Numerous respected international measures of judicial independence have consistently ranked Israel’s judiciary among the most independent in the world, including in comparison to many liberal democracies.
Thus, Israel’s fiercely independent and highly respected High Court needs no lectures on jurisprudence from other countries, neither with regard to international law nor otherwise.
I can imagine the uproar that would occur if Israel were to similarly question the probity of other countries’ internal judicial processes.
Some have argued that relocating the residents to proper homes several kilometers to the west will somehow preclude an eventual political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is high time we replace theatrics with sensible discourse. In this regard, the idea that moving a small group of people within a several kilometer radius will prevent a resolution to such a complex historical conflict is absurd, to say the least.
Does Israel need to heed such cynical grandstanding? Do these people really need to pay with their health and lives and futures for it?
Not on my watch.
The Israeli government will continue to pursue a real, practical solution to the plight of these people, far too long exploited by an irresponsible
Palestinian leadership and its misguided supporters around the world.
As always, the Israeli government will do so while abiding scrupulously by the law and while balancing the different interests at stake, including the genuine needs of the residents themselves.
It is the legal thing to do.
It is the moral thing to do.
And despite the same old international clamor against Israel, it is the right thing to do.
The writer is defense minister of Israel.
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