Khan al-Ahmar: Israel’s double-dare challenge

The state’s ability to enforce its own laws is being put to the test. If the government doesn’t get it right this time, it’s in for more of the same.

REPRESENTATIVES OF Khan al-Ahmar attend the 2018 Supreme Court discussion in Jerusalem concerning Israel’s planned demolition of the West Bank village.  (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
REPRESENTATIVES OF Khan al-Ahmar attend the 2018 Supreme Court discussion in Jerusalem concerning Israel’s planned demolition of the West Bank village.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
 An Italian opera overlooks Highway 1
Never mind the facts. Never mind that in reality, things are exactly other than they seem. In terms of news ratings, the Khan al-Ahmar story is pure gold. It is, literally, the stuff that news is made of. It has it all: a romantic tale of an ongoing struggle, weak vs strong, right vs wrong and good vs evil; the chronicles of a small Bedouin community – a remnant of an age-old tribe – holding its ground in the face of repeated attempts made by the Israeli system to strip it of its land, its culture and its way of life.
This alleged tragedy has been taking place in Khan al-Ahmar – an illegal Bedouin outpost located on a hill overlooking Highway 1, some six miles east of Jerusalem in Area C. According to Vento di Terra, the Italian aid-group running the show in Khan al-Ahmar, Israel has been trying to unlawfully evacuate the Jahalin tribe from its land. In fact, the outpost was illegally built on Israeli-controlled territory. The Israeli High Court – which is usually very lenient toward illegal construction by the Arab sector – has ordered the forceful evacuation of the compound, but the government has yet to follow through. Due to Vento di Terra’s aggressive media campaign, the Israeli government is being faced with a dilemma: Enforcing its own High Court ruling will portray Israel as a war criminal. Overriding it will turn Israel into a laughing stock.
So far, the Israeli government has chosen the latter.
Khan al-Ahmar. Google it.
Looking up the words “Khan al-Ahmar” on Google News will yield approximately 6,000 news items. Googling “Al-Hawl,” the name of a refugee camp in northeastern Syria, will produce about 7,500 such results. Not much of a difference in terms of media coverage, or at least not the one you would expect when comparing the story of 180 Bedouin outlaws living on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem to a humanitarian disaster affecting approximately 73,000 people locked-up in the middle of an active war zone. This ridiculously biased, disproportionate media coverage is proof of just how successful Vento di Terra has been in its quest to defame Israel.
Vento di Terra (“The Land’s Breeze”) is a small pro-Palestinian NGO based in Rozzano, Italy. According to its website, its purpose is to “defend human rights and the environment... where violence, weapons and exploitation prevail.” The organization’s activity began in east Jerusalem and the West Bank in 2003, expanding later to the Gaza Strip. The organization also runs projects in a Syrian refugee camp in northwestern Jordan, and smaller projects in locations as distant as Mozambique and Albania.
BEHIND ITS facade of promoting itself as an international aid-group is an anti-Israeli organization that offers the usual concoction of anti-Israeli propaganda: In 2018 the organization joined a petition of more than 70 NGOs urging the UN to step in and prosecute Israel for committing “war crimes” during the “Great March of Return” events in Gaza.
Vento di Terra isn’t short of cash. From 2013-2016, the organization received $87,000 from the Italian government, €95,576 from the European Union and $241,000 from the United Nations Development Program to fund its projects in the West Bank and east Jerusalem .
The illegal construction taking place in Khan al-Ahmar is part of the organization’s flagship project, launched in 2008. It is one of several similar projects being run by the organization whose stated purpose is to “enhance the Bedouin identity” and allegedly help the Bedouin population “rediscover its nomadic roots.”
Preserving Bedouin culture is far from being the only thing these activists have in mind. Nor is it just mere spontaneous anti-Israeli activism. It is part of a broader, well-thought Palestinian strategy, known as “The Fayyad Plan.”
“The letter C doesn’t exist in my alphabet,” declared former Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad back in 2009. Fayyad was referring, of course, to Area C, which constitutes about 60% of the West Bank, and which is home for approximately 500,000 Israelis. The Palestinian PM was looking to emphasize his disregard of Israeli control over the area, and to express his intention to set about the formation of a de facto Palestinian state by using his own original strategy. 
Fayyad wasn’t going to wait for US-mediated negotiations with the Israelis. Backed by the European Union and aided by European NGOs, His plan was to set up a Palestinian state, unilaterally, from the bottom up. By setting up clusters of small outposts in strategic places all over the West Bank, Fayyad was hoping to base a Palestinian territorial sequence starting from the southern outskirts of Hebron and stretching all the way north to the Palestinian city of Jenin. In order to prevent Israel from evacuating these compounds, the Palestinian Authority had them populated with Bedouin nomads, Palestinian farmers and Europeans activists. According to the EU, any Israeli attempt to evacuate these jurisdictional “blind spots” would be considered a war crime, which would have grave implications for Israel’s public image.
Forcefully evacuating Khan al-Ahmar will be a messy business. Photos and videos showing crying, barefoot Bedouin children being shoved about by Israeli police officers will inevitably be smeared all over the news and social media. An uproar will ensue, and Israel will be accused once again of war crimes. However, failing to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar will eventually lead to the grim reality of an outlaw Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria. 
In the case of Khan al-Ahmar, Israel doesn’t have the luxury of maintaining its public image. First, it has to maintain its existence.
The writer the is director of Habithonistim, a movement of Israeli security forces personnel advocating for Israel’s future security needs in a way that will enable its existence and prosperity for generations to come.