The High Court of Justice granted the state an additional six months to plan for the demolition of the illegal West Bank herding village of Khan al-Ahmar even as it said it was frustrated by continued requests for delays on the matter.
“I examined the arguments of the parties on one side and the other,” wrote Justice Noam Sohlberg on Wednesday. He set a date of March 6, 2022, for the state to declare its plan for the small community of 180 Jahalin Bedouin that is perched next to Route 1, just before the Kfar Adumim settlement.
“There is no doubt,” he warned the state, “that the day is fast approaching when we can no longer come to terms with the lack of clarification with regard to this petition, and [the court] will require a clear decision,” Sohlberg said.
“It is not possible to stretch the rope without at some point saying ‘enough is enough.’”
The court had initially refused to entertain any more delays on the state submission of an evacuation plan. It was not moved by the state’s explanation that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government had been formed only in May and had scant time to explore the matter.
The state asked for a delay anyway, explaining that “significant advancement” was being made toward an arrangement that could avoid a forced demolition. It also requested permission to present the court with a secret document.
The right-wing NGO Regavim, which had petitioned the court in March 2019 against the encampment, had objected to the presentation of such a document, arguing that details about the case should be public.
Sohlberg said that given the absence of such a document, it was not possible to properly evaluate the state’s request and as such, the request for a delay had been reluctantly granted.
Regavim has been attempting to force the state to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar since 2009, filing six petitions against it, including this last one, none of which led to any action.
In 2018, the court ruled that the state could demolish the structures but did not order it to do so. In the aftermath of the ruling, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to raze the village, but then halted such proceedings when the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned that such a demolition could constitute a war crime.
Israel is under pressure from the United States and the international community to halt its demolitions of illegal Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank, particularly given that the Civil Administration grants only a small number of permits for Palestinian construction. Area C is under IDF military and civilian rule.
Khan al-Ahmar has become a symbol among Palestinians and in much of the international community of the battle against home demolitions in the West Bank.
Regavim and the Israeli Right have argued that such illegal building, including at Khan al-Ahmar, is part of a Palestinian Authority plan to seize de facto control of Area C so as to prevent Israeli sovereignty there.
Regavim’s director-general Meir Deutsch warned that as part of the state’s endless request for an evacuation delay, the state would argue in March for an additional extension based on the Passover holiday that would be imminent.
Procrastination does not absolve the state of the simple requirement that “it must fight the Palestinian takeover of Judea and Samaria.
“Khan al-Ahmar was and still is a test case for the “issue of strategic breadth,” in Judea and Samaria, Deutsch said.
The left-wing NGO Friends of the Jahalin, said, “it’s a shame that the court granted another extension and did not eject outright a petition that violated the principles of equality.” It added that the time has come to find a fair and agreed upon resolution.