The Khan al-Ahmar School community. Photo: Rima 'Essa, B'Tselem, 4 Feb. 2017
Twelve of the Palestinian communities at risk of expulsion in the West Bank live in the area of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, and have a total of about 1,400 residents. These communities are scattered on either side of the Jerusalem-Jericho road, east of the industrial zone of the Ma’ale Adumim settlemen t, and on either side of Route 437, which connects the village of Hizma with the main road. Residents of these communities have very few sources of income left, suffer a serious lack of health, education and welfare services, and live without basic infrastructure such as an electricity network, a sewage system and proper roads. One of these communities is known as the Khan al-Ahmar School community. Its members belong to the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, originally from Tel Arad in the Negev desert, from where they were expelled by the Israeli military in the 1950s. After the initial expulsion, members of the community leased land for residential purposes and for herding in the area where the settlement of Kfar Adumim is now located. They resettled in their current location after they were expelled from there, too.
The community is located about two kilometers south of Adumim, and, according to updated figures, is home to 32 families numbering 173 persons, including 92 children and youths. It also has a mosque and a school, which was built in 2009 and serves more than 150 children between the ages of six and fifteen. About half the student body comes from nearby communities. Until the school was opened, primary school children had to attend schools located far away, making trips that were both costly and risky. The school was built by Italian NGO Terra di Vento, and is made of mud and rubber tires. Funding for construction of the school and for other projects in the community was provided by Italy, Belgium and the European Union.
Members of the Khan al-Ahmar School community, like other communities in the area, live in difficult conditions. Israel refuses to connect the community to the power grid. In 2015, the Civil Administration (CA) confiscated twelve solar panels that had been donated to the community as an alternate means of generating electricity . In addition, although the Jerusalem-Jericho main road runs right by the community, the CA bars direct access from the village to the road and prohibits private cars or public transportation from pulling over on the side of the road near the village. Yet the CA has refrained from building an alternate access road to the village or stopping bays by the side of the main road, leaving residents to travel by bumpy roundabout routes.
The community suffers constant harassment at the hands of the Israeli authorities, who wish to see it expelled, one reason being to take over the land for future expansion of settlements. Recently, after years of deliberation, the threat became tangible: In late August 2017, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that the government would evacuate the entire community within several months.
Over the years, the Israeli authorities have prevented construction of structures to meet the community’s needs. Instead, they confiscated various facilities and equipment and demolished existing structures on the pretext that these had been built without permits, completely ignoring the simple fact that the residents have no way of obtaining a building permit. From 2006 to mid-September 2017, the authorities demolished 26 homes in the community, leaving 132 people, 77 of them children and youths, homeless. Six non-residential structures were also demolished.
Should the state go through with the plan to remove the Khan al-Ahmar School community from its home, or should residents have no choice but to leave due to impossible living conditions created by the authorities, this would violate the prohibition on forcible transfer set in international humanitarian law. Such a violation constitutes a war crime, an all persons involved in its implementation would bear personal liability – including the prime minister, senior cabinet members, the chief of staff and the head of the Civil Administration.
As part of the state’s efforts to expel the community, many demolition orders for structures in the community have been issued over the years. The community fought these orders in court. At the same time, settlers in the area also took legal action to have the state move forward with the demolitions. Two petitions, one filed by community members and one by settlers, are still pending.
A month after the school opened in 2009, the CA issued a demolition order on the grounds that it lay too close to the main road, which is slated expansion. Adv. Shlomo Lecker filed a petition to the High Court of Justice on behalf of the residents, seeking to prevent the demolition of the school. Shortly thereafter, in September 2009, the settlements of Kfar Adumim, Alon and Nofei Prat petitioned the court together with Israeli organization Regavim, demanding that the state implement the demolition orders issued for 257 Palestinian structures in their vicinity, including the Khan al-Ahmar school and homes in nearby communities.
In response to the petition filed by the Khan al-Ahamr residents, the CA agreed not to demolish the school before the end of the school year in June 2010, and declared that the plans to relocate the residents included a new school. The court therefore denied both petitions in March 2010.
The CA has not demolished the school to date. In August 2011, the settlements petitioned the High Court once more, seeking to have the military and the CA carry out the demolition orders issued for the school and for residential structures. In November 2011, the area’s Palestinian residents, represented by Adv. Lecker, also petitioned the High Court again, seeking a stay of the demolition order against the school pending completion of a master plan that they planned to submit to the CA.
In response to the petition by the settlements, the state announced in September 2012 that it was considering an alternate site for the community and the school, adding that the relocation would be carried out through a participatory process involving members of the community, hopefully within a year. The state added that the demolition orders would not be carried out before the process was completed. In light of the state’s response, the court rejected the petitions.
In November 2013, the settlements petitioned the High Court a third time, reiterating their demand that the state carry out the demolition orders. In response, the state said it was planning to relocate the residents to an area north of Jericho, and that it was preparing a master plan for the site. The residents of Khan al-Ahmar notified the court of their opposition to the relocation. In May 2014, the court rejected the petition, noting “the Respondents’ efforts to reach an amenable overall solution and their wish to avoid harming minors.” In April 2016, the settlements filed a fourth petition, demanding the state demolish the school.
In July 2015, the court voided the petition filed by Khan al-Ahmar residents in November 2011 against the demolition orders issued for most of the structures in the community. The decision, to which both parties consented, noted that the state had no intentions at that point in time to execute the demolition orders, and that should it decide to do so, it would give the residents 45 days’ notice.
In February 2017, a large contingent of CA and police forces arrived at the community. They distributed 46 stop-work orders (the precursor to demolition orders) covering all structures in the community, including the school. After receiving these orders, residents filed another High Court petition. The court has issued temporary injunctions prohibiting the demolitions pending a hearing in the petition.
The hearing in the petitions filed by Khan al-Ahmar residents and by the settlements was scheduled for 25 September 2017. On 13 September, ahead of the hearing, CA representatives came to the community and notified residents that they would be relocated to a nearby site referred to as “al-Jabal West”, near the Abu Dis garbage dump. After the state delayed its response to the court, the hearing was postponed and is yet to be rescheduled.
In the response it eventually submitted, the state announced its intention to expel the community and transfer the school to the site near the garbage dump by April 2018. In doing so, the state requested that the justices approve the commission of a war crime.