The countdown begins. The Bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar and its famous tyre-and-adobe school are poised to be demolished in the next day or two by the “Civil Administration”, Israel’s Orwellian name for its military government in the Occupied Territory.
The demolition of Khan al-Ahmar is merely another chapter in a process of displacement that has been going on for 70 years. The Bedouin group inhabiting Khan Al-Ahmar are Al-Jahhalin, a tribe expelled from the Negev desert of Israel in 1952 to make way for the new town of Arad. Simply dumped over the border (although some Jahhalin still have Israeli citizenship), they found a niche in the Judean Desert between Jerusalem and Jericho where they could continue their lives as nomadic herders.
But in 1967 this land became a valuable part of the West Bank. Controlling this area meant that Israel could effectively cut the West Bank in half, thus foreclosing the possibility of any Palestinian state there. The Bedouin were steadily pushed into ever more remote and constricted areas. In 1976 Israel established Ma’aleh Adumim, today the third largest settlement in the Occupied Territory with more than 40,000 (Jewish) inhabitants, in the centre of Jahhalin life. Since 1997 the Civil Administration has been forcing the Jahhalin off their land entirely, relocating them by force onto a barren hilltop literally on the Jerusalem municipal garbage dump. Trucks full of garbage pass through their crowded shanty town on the way to dumping the garbage below, and the stench is overpowering. (This is part of wider problem of Israel using the West Bank as a disposal site for its urban and industrial – and some believe nuclear – waste.)
The Jahhalin are part of a larger community of 40,000 Bedouin living in the West Bank. Bedouin (the very term means “desert dweller”) are adept at nomadic living in the desert. In fact, their flocks of sheep and goats provided a major portion of the meat and dairy products to the Palestinian economy. Prevented by Israel from pursuing their lives as herders – Israel has locked them into more than 100 encampments – they can no longer maintain their flocks and have fallen into utter poverty, the average Bedouin family earning only $270 per month. Most Bedouin communities have no access to clean drinking water. Thus they consume only 1/5 of the daily requirement for water as set by the WHO; Israelis, by contrast, consume ten times more water a day, and settlers 25 times more if one includes their landscaping, lavish swimming pools and even the artificial lakes of the settlements. Forty-one per cent of Bedouin families have no electricity; 79 per cent are “food-insecure” (i.e., malnourished and without a dependable supply of food); they are denied basic education and health services; and the threat of demolition and expulsion constantly hangs over their heads. Besides the human tragedy of it all – and forcible expulsion is a war crime – these Israeli policies represent cultural genocide.
The declared intent of the Civil Administration is to remove all the Bedouin from Area C, part of a process of removal that affects the Palestinian population as a whole. Area C represents 62 per cent of the West Bank, and it is where the Israeli settlements are located. Two and a half million Palestinians of the West Bank – 84 per cent of the population – are locked into some 70 tiny, isolated and impoverished enclaves called Areas A and B on the other 38 per cent.
Last month three Israeli Supreme Court justices, including Justice Noam Sohlberg who himself lives in a West Bank settlement, approved the demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar because it was constructed “illegally”. This is self-serving sophistry, of course, because the Civil Administration has a policy of not granting building permits to Palestinians for the past 50 years, forcing them to build homes for themselves “illegally.” This highlights the reality that without the legal backing for occupation policies by the Israeli Supreme Court, the occupation would have long since collapsed out of very illegality.
The Supreme Court refuses to apply international law to the occupation (especially the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits the construction of settlements, the confiscating and annexing of occupied land and the displacement of people inhabiting an occupied territory), and accepts at face value all army actions (including that of the Civil Administration) that the Israeli army justifies as necessary for “security”. The Palestinians of the Occupied Territory, including the Jahhalin of Khan Al-Ahmar, live in a terrifying kafkaesque reality where they enjoy no legal protection from the state, the army or from attacks by settlers.
Khan Al-Ahmar, situated ironically at the biblical site of the Inn of the Good Samaritan, is home to 173 people, 92 of them children. The school, built by Italian volunteers in 2009, the first school the Jahhalin ever had, serves 150 kids. The demolition is likely to be tomorrow to make way for the genuinely illegal expansion of the Kfar Adumim settlement, a suburb of Ma’aleh Adumim. After years of protest and lobbying with governments abroad, the destruction of Khan Al-Ahmar, together with all the violence, repression and injustice of Israel’s occupation, demonstrates the moral bankruptcy and political ineffectiveness of our governments in enforcing human rights and international law. Trump’s plan, his “Ultimate Deal”, will soon “give” Israel all of Area C.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.