Khan al-Ahmar and the urgency of a two-state solution

If the current trend in the West Bank continues, Zionism will soon fall to the exclusionary, militant, closed-minded side of nationalism.

ISRAELI POLICEMEN scuffle with Palestinians in Khan al-Ahmar yesterday.  (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
ISRAELI POLICEMEN scuffle with Palestinians in Khan al-Ahmar yesterday.
Israeli authorities have recently ordered the residents of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar to evacuate and destroy their residences ahead of a plan to relocate the residents to the town of Abu Dis. The order is based on a Supreme Court ruling upholding government decisions dating back several years to demolish the village because it was constructed without the “required permits.”
To an observer of Israel, this may seem an ugly but necessary event. In Israel, there is a similar problem of “unrecognized” Bedouin villages. Like in Khan al-Ahmar, Israeli Bedouins have constructed dozens of temporary settlements in the south of Israel without government permission. On one hand, such sporadic settlement is a tenet of traditional Bedouin nomadic culture. On the other hand, these villages have the highest unemployment and poverty rates in Israel, and lacking government recognition, do not have easy access to public utilities like electricity and running water. The Israeli government has stepped in on many occasions to build permanent towns for Bedouins, though not all Bedouin communities have complied with the government’s initiatives, leading to ugly confrontations that have led to demolitions of some unrecognized villages. The most infamous was al-Araqeeb, a Bedouin village of 600 that was demolished more than 100 times.
But Khan al-Ahmar is different. Despite incidents like al-Araqeeb, the government treats the Israeli Bedouin population within the Israeli socioeconomic context and Israeli Bedouins are Israeli citizens with rights equal (at least legally) to all other Israelis. Khan al-Ahmar is in the West Bank under Israeli occupation. Its people are not citizens of Israel and the status of their land is murky until Israel can reach an agreement with the Palestinians on the matter.
Khan al-Ahmar happens to be located near the Jewish settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim, whose residents have pushed for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and other Arab towns in the West Bank. It seems reasonable enough that Jewish settlers will take the opportunity to settle Khan al-Ahmar once it is vacated.
If Israel demolishes Khan al-Ahmar, it will have to confront not only the human cost of its actions, but also the moral problem of evicting people from their land in order to make space for the expansion of its own. Allowing such action will eventually destroy any prospect for the Palestinians to have a state they can call their own. The project of Zionism, once aimed toward the miraculous liberation and revitalization of a nation, would become the subjugation of another nation.
This is about neither whether Jewish settlement is legal nor the viability of a potential Palestinian state. This not about where the borders should be, nor the sad reality that many young Israelis today spend the majority of their army services enforcing a military occupation, nor the unnecessary Nation-State Law. This is about the moral corruption Israel will have to face if it continues going down this path.
A two-state solution is our best shot at avoiding this outcome. Israel would still have to deal with the reality of a sizable Arab population, but within the framework of equal citizenship, political representation, and a national dialogue including all people living in Israel. At the same time, the Palestinians would be allowed to govern themselves, freeing Israel from the burden of imposing its rule over another nation.
There is the difficult issue of security. Similar to the common Israeli sentiment, I do not believe that ending the occupation of the West Bank will make Israel safer, nor do I trust the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to be good neighbors. Nonetheless, the high moral cost of continuing the occupation necessitates taking a security risk, as hard as it will be.
Many who prefer annexation of the West Bank cite historical and religious arguments. Yes, giving up control of historic Jewish cities like Hebron is tough to swallow, even for a nonreligious Jew like myself. I do wish Israel could keep these cities or – better yet – that Jews and Arabs could live equally in one state. However, this is impossible for us because we rightly care deeply about Israel’s Jewish character. Therefore, we must sacrifice control over our historical cities in order to accommodate the political aspirations of a nation no less entitled to them.
We need to implement a two-state solution as soon as possible. The longer the occupation continues and Jewish settlements expand, the more the Zionist project will become an experiment in one nation dominating another.
Zionists can stand proud by the miraculous achievements of Israel and show that there is a way to be “good nationalists” (Gil Troy’s line). If the current trend in the West Bank continues, Zionism will soon fall to the exclusionary, militant, closed-minded side of nationalism. Demolishing Khan al-Ahmar is one step toward this dreary prospect. Seriously working toward putting a Palestinian state in the West Bank will put us back on the right path.
The writer is a Master of Public Policy candidate at Georgetown University and an editor at Georgetown Public Policy Review. He got his BA from IDC Herzliya and has done research at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).