On 1 August 2018, Israel’s High Court of Justice heard the new petition filed by the Khan al-Ahmar school community against demolition of their homes and their forced expulsion. During the hearing, the justices clarified that they wish to refrain from a ruling and pressured the parties to reach an “agreement”. The state was told to provide a written document detailing its proposal for an alternate site.
The state filed its response on 7 August 2018, insisting on the community’s immediate expulsion to the site originally proposed near the Abu Dis landfill. The state noted that, at some point in the future, it would be prepared to advance plans for a new site for the community in a desert location south-west of Jericho, on two conditions. First, that residents of three neighboring communities would also relocate to the new site, raising the number of people to be expelled to more than 400 – more than double the original amount. Second, that all residents would leave their homes “consensually” and sign affidavits to that effect, without any objections.
This proposal is an attempt to show the court that the state is supposedly heeding its demands and is theoretically prepared to reach a “compromise” with the petitioners. However, it is a show of bad faith, as the state is fully aware that the suggestion is neither adequate nor feasible. The proposed site is completely barren and contains no pastureland, so that residents would not be able to continue shepherding, losing their main source of income. It is also far from the hubs that residents of Khan al-Ahmar and the other three communities rely on for additional work, educational and health services and social ties. In addition, the site is only several hundred meters away from a sewage treatment facility (a detail that the state failed to mention in its response), and building access roads to it would involve expropriating Palestinian lands.
Furthermore, the state’s demand to tie the expulsion of Khan al-Ahmar to the expulsion of three additional communities is a cynical exploitation of the current legal proceedings. The state initially argued that the community was not even entitled to file the petition, as the court had already made a final ruling in their matter. Now, it is using the very same petition to try and expel other communities that were not included in the first place. This is telling of the state’s ultimate goal: to remove all Palestinian communities from the area stretching east of Jerusalem and half way toward the Jordan River, thereby creating a wedge of Jewish settlement that would split the West Bank in two, in keeping with the route planned for the Separation Barrier.
Whatever alternative the state proposes, forcible transfer is a war crime. All persons involved in approving and executing the transfer of the Khan al-Ahmar community would bear responsibility for this crime, whether it is achieved by physical force or by making the residents’ lives so unbearable that they leave, ostensibly of their own free will.
The threat to the community of Khan al-Ahmar is imminent and must be stopped now. If the community is expelled, the threat to neighboring communities and to thousands of Palestinians in some 200 farming and shepherding communities throughout the West Bank – who already suffer some level of abuse, violence and dispossession – could become a reality, too.
Khan al-Ahmar area - communities targeted for demolition and forcible transfer
Khan al-Ahmar community: Relocation site 2, south-west of Jericho
Khan al-Ahmar community: Current location and the two relocation sites