Court rejects 'embarrassing' bid to delay Khan al-Ahmar evacuation hearing

It set a new date of November 1, by when the state must explain to the court why it had failed to evacuate the temporary tents and huts that are home to some 180 members of the Jahalin tribe.

THE BEDOUIN encampment of Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’aleh Adumim. (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
THE BEDOUIN encampment of Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’aleh Adumim.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
The High Court of Justice on Monday night chastised the state for its “embarrassing” delay in responding to a Regavim petition to force the evacuation of the illegal West Bank Bedouin herding village of Khan al-Ahmar, first filed in June 2019.
It set a new date of November 1, by when the state must explain to the court why it had failed to evacuate the temporary tents and huts that are home to 180 members of the Jahalin tribe. The village is perched on the edge of Highway 1, near the settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Kfar Adumim, just outside of Jerusalem.
Earlier in the day, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat had written on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to explain that the state could not meet its deadline of September 8 to provide a written response to the court in advance of a September 30 hearing.
“Additional time is needed for the upper political echelon to give the matter the exhaustive attention that is needed,” Ben-Shabbat wrote.
He noted that three elections have been held in the last two years and that the government was only sworn in this May in the midst of a pandemic.
“The new government began its tenure against the backdrop of a national effort to contend with the spread of the coronavirus and the far-reaching ramifications of this effort for government resources, which have been devoted entirely to this important national objective,” Ben-Shabbat wrote.
It is unusual for a national security adviser to pen such a response, which is typically handled by the state prosecutor’s office.
Judge Noam Sohlberg wrote back that the “request to delay the date of the hearing was embarrassing.”
He noted that the Regavim petition was just “the latest in a chain of petitions with respect to the al-Ahmar compound.”
“THE SAGA of the [attempted] evacuation of the compound began with the decision of the [state] to issue demolition orders for buildings in the complex more than a decade ago,” Sohlberg wrote.
“During three different [legal] rounds, petitions were filed in this court by various stakeholders – some sought to enforce the demolition orders, some sought to order their annulment – and they were rejected on the grounds that this court does not interfere with the state’s priorities in exercising jurisdiction,” he said.
Then there was a fourth round in 2016, in an attempt to prevent the demolition, Sohlberg recalled.
At the time, the “state attorney-general emphasized the need for a speedy decision on the issue, which was crowned of ‘strategic importance’ – also for the reason that the complex is located near a major and central transportation artery at the regional and national level, and puts its residents and road users in clear and tangible danger.”
At a hearing on April 25, 2018, the judge recalled that the “state attorney-general reiterated their claims, adding that there was no need to repeatedly address the claims of the residents of the compound, whose purpose is to ‘buy time.’”
At the time, Sohlberg said, there was no reason to “order the state to refrain from enforcing the law while it was seeking to do so.”
He recalled the wording of the court’s ruling in 2018, which, while upholding the ruling to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar, did order that such an evacuation must take place.
“TOWARD THE end of the decision, we said that in the circumstances of the case, in view of the formulation of the outlined plan scheduled for implementation in the near future – and leaving the door open for dialogue with the residents of the complex in order to coordinate the evacuation – I see no justification for setting an exact date for demolition orders.
“At the same time, it was stated that there is therefore no justification for obliging the state to continue dealing with the issue through new attempts to find a solution. What has not been done for nine years, will probably not be done.”
Then Sohlberg said there was a fifth round of petitioning both to prevent the evacuation and to force it, all of which was rejected.
Now, with respect to the latest petition, Sohlberg said, there is still “nothing new under the sun” but noted that the state had flip-flopped on its position with regard to Khan al-Ahmar from placing it as being an urgent priority to one that is not.
“Although state representatives have argued before us in the past about the urgency, and even great urgency, of implementing its decisions, and although this court has repeatedly allowed the state to implement its decisions, nothing has changed: What has been so far is that which will be, and what has been done so far is that which will be done.
“Now, close to the date set for the hearing of the petition filed in June 2019, in which it was strongly argued against the state’s sins of omission, in its failure to fulfill its obligations, the State representatives have requested to postpone the hearing – after a date was set at the state’s request, once and twice earlier, and after the hearing was postponed at the request of the state. The postponement of the hearing was requested this time until the end of the first quarter of 2021, which we will not be able to accept.”
RIGHT-WING nongovernmental group Regavim had filed a petition to the court in June 2019 to force the state to take action after Netanyahu failed to make good on his pledge to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar. In October 2018, Netanyahu had prevented former defense minister Avigdor Liberman from evacuating the village, but said he would do it soon
At the time, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had warned Netanyahu that the demolition of the village could be considered a war crime.
The Jahalin Bedouin had initially lived in the Negev and were expelled in the 1950s by Israel to the West Bank, when it was under Jordanian rule. The Abu-Dahuk clan of Jahalin first moved to the site of the current Khan al-Ahmar village in the 1970s.
Regavim has claimed that the situation has since been exploited by the Palestinian Authority, which it argued has sought to seize control of as much land in Area C as possible.
“The Khan al-Ahmar case long ago ceased to be an isolated case of a single illegal outpost. It has been an exemplary case of the way the state acts – or more precisely, how it fails to act – when faced with the Palestinian Authority’s takeover of Area C,” Regavim said Monday.
“The government has violated its own commitment, reflected in the High Court of Justice’s ruling many long months ago. The time has come to put a stop to this inexcusable conduct,” it added. “We call upon the High Court to issue a final judgment in this case, requiring the government to raze this illegal outpost immediately and to pay the court fees incurred by its interminable and inexcusable procrastination.”
Attorneys Avi Segal and Yael Cinnamon called on the High Court to reject the state’s request for a delay.
“This petition was submitted half a year ago, and in the time that has passed, no progress whatsoever has been made to conduct any such examination,” they said.
“It’s become standard practice,” the attorneys said. “Every time the deadline for submitting a response arrives, the government submits a request for continuance based on any number of strange and convoluted excuses: transitional governments are unauthorized to respond to the petition, delays caused by the government’s preoccupation with the corona pandemic.
“And now, the government, sworn in over four months ago, has not yet had the opportunity to deal with the issue.”