The illegal West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar has been granted a four-month reprieve from demolition, after the High Court of Justice gave the state until February 1 to submit a plan detailing its destruction.
The state had been scheduled to provide the court with the plan in September, but had asked for a delay until after the upcoming election given Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s brief tenure in office.
Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo explained to the court that since Lapid had just entered office and faced a November election, it was best to wait until a new government was in place.
The court said on Monday that in light of the electoral reality, it had no choice but to delay the state submission, despite its displeasure with the state’s request. The High Court ruled in 2018 that the village’s structures, which are perched just above Route 1 near the Kfar Adumim settlement, could be razed.
Why does Khan al-Ahmar have to be demolished?
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially said he would do so, but never made good on that pledge. His successor, Naftali Bennett, made a similar promise prior to the last election, but instead delayed the issue in an attempt to work out a compromise by which the 180 members of the Abu Dahuk clan of the Jahalin tribe would voluntarily relocate.
The NGO Regavim, which submitted petitions against the village since 2009, turned to the court in 2019 asking that it force the state to demolish it.
The court’s ruling to delay any action on Khan al-Ahmar comes as Israel is pushing to finalize a deal with neighboring Lebanon that would settle a maritime dispute between the two countries.
“If the interim government is capable of signing commitments of historic magnitude with foreign governments, and to make high-level appointments to key public positions, how is it deemed incapable of living up to commitments that are over a decade old?” said Regavim attorney Yael Cinnamon. “Time and time again, the High Court has declared the outpost at Khan al-Ahmar illegal and called for the relocation of the squatters, but Khan al-Ahmar remains.”
Regavim has argued that illegal Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, such as has occurred in Khan al-Ahmar, is part of an overall Palestinian Authority plan to seize control of Area C to ensure that it is included in the final borders of a potential Palestinian state.
The Abu Dahuk clan initially lived in the Negev, but were forcibly evacuated by Israel to the West Bank in the early 1950s, when it was part of Jordan. They found themselves in Israel again in 1967, and have been located in the area of Khan al-Ahmar since the 1970s.
The International Criminal Court’s former chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, warned in 2018 that the forced demolition of Khan al-Ahmar could be considered a war crime. The ICC is already investigating whether Israelis can be sued for war crimes.
The European Union spoke out on Monday against the Israeli policy of demolishing illegal Palestinian structures. The UN and the US have also issued such statements, particularly given that few permits are issued for Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank. Area C is under IDF military and civilian control.