Mariam Barghouti / Al Jazeera & The United Nations – 2018-07-13 01:01:14
Bulldozing Palestine, One Village at a Time
Israel wants the village of Khan al-Ahmar
razed to the ground to cut off
Jerusalem from the West Bank
Mariam Barghouti / Al Jazeera
israeli policemen detain a Palestinian girl in the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar. (Mohamad Torokman/Getty)
(July 12, 2018) — It was a bit ironic to see a small group of Israeli settlers enter the large solidarity tent stationed at the entrance of Khan al-Ahmar last Wednesday. They had come, they said, to show “solidarity” with the Palestinian Bedouins protesting a demolition order.
Since 2017, the whole Bedouin village has been threatened with demolition by the Israeli authorities. Earlier that day, Israeli soldiers attacked villagers and activists who had staged a protest, injuring 35.
Khan al-Ahmar, a village of 180 people, is about 15km northeast of Jerusalem and falls within what is known as Area C of the occupied West Bank, as defined by the Oslo Accords. The area has been inundated with more than 300,000 Israelis living in 125 illegal settlements and is under Israeli administrative control. Under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authorities was supposed to take over administering the area, but, of course, Israel never let that happen.
As a result, it is now the Israeli state that controls the land in Area C and that decides on building permits. Khan al-Ahmar existed before the state of Israel was created in 1948. In the 1950s, Palestinian Bedouins expelled from the Negev desert by the Israeli army moved to the West Bank and settled in the village, expanding it.
The Israeli state has now decided that all its buildings are illegal and have to be demolished. Khan al-Ahmar is located between two expanding illegal Israeli settlements — Kfar Adumim (founded in 1979) and Maale Adumim (founded in 1975) — and on the so-called “E1 corridor” between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which the Israeli state would like to control in order to cut off Palestinian access to the city.
It was settlers from these two settlements that showed up at Khan al-Ahmar on Wednesday to show “support” for the protest, as if their existence has nothing to do with the problem the Palestinian village residents were facing.
The prospect of displacement and misery has made the people of Khan al-Ahmar accept help from whoever offers it. If anyone can stop the Israeli bulldozers from razing their homes, then let them come.
Their village is essentially a collection of houses spread over a few hills surrounding a highway connecting East Jerusalem with Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It has no paved roads, no sewage system, no electricity and until recently had no school. Some years back, the local community with international support built a school out of mud and tires.
To the east and south of Khan al-Ahmar, are the two Israeli settlements that look nothing like it. Israeli settlers have reaped the fruits of occupation, erecting prosperous settlements supplied with all utilities and comforts. They look like cities, always well-lit and clean, with well-functioning sewage and running water; they have several schools, clinics and of course security provided by the Israeli army.
The residents of Khan al-Ahmar have been denied access to any of the services their Israeli neighbours enjoy. Their children can’t go to their schools, and before the construction of the mud school, they had to walk several kilometres to get an education.
Since the village started resisting attempts by the Israeli state to push them out of their land, it has become a heavily policed community.
On Wednesday it was both men and women who were beaten by Israeli soldiers in front of their children.
Twelve-year-old Jibril Jahalin tried to recount the violence, his voice cracking behind a laughter that was more forced than genuine. “They kept hitting everyone,” he told me. Later that night, his cousin — Mohammad Jahalin, 14, stayed up making tea for the activists who had come to support the community and were staying overnight.
As he was boiling the water he said to me, “You know, I try not to be afraid, but I don’t know what will happen to us. Where will we go, what will we do? I am afraid”. And like Jibril, he, too, tried to laugh off his fear.
Khan al-Ahmar is not the only Bedouin community that is facing decimation by the Israeli state. The Bedouin way of life and traditions are under grave threat. After the colonisation and militarisation of Palestinian lands, which put an end to freedom of movement for Bedouins and Palestinians in general, Palestinian Bedouin communities were forced to settle down and today, they face a systematic campaign of expulsion.
Between 2008 and 2014, some 6,000 Bedouins were forcefully displaced in Area C after the Israeli state razed their homes.
Just last year, the Bedouin village of al-Araqib was destroyed for the 119th time by Israeli forces even though its residents carry Israeli citizenship.
After the raid on Khan al-Ahmar by the Israeli military last week, an Israeli court placed a temporary freeze on the demolition order to “investigate” the ownership of the land. But Israeli courts have proved many times in the last decades that they work to preserve the Israeli colonial project.
The story of Khan al-Ahmar is just one example of the systemic and illegal forced displacement and replacement of Palestinians with Israelis across Palestine. Palestinians are being displaced by a variety of calculated Israeli policies.
In Jerusalem, residents face the revocation of their Jerusalem IDs and residency if they are found to be “disloyal” to the state of Israel. In the West Bank, in 2016 alone, Israel utilised discriminatory practices to displace 1,283 Palestinians from their homes.
In Gaza, the Israeli 11-year-old siege has made many Palestinians want to seek a better life outside the strip — some hopping on boats with Syrian refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.
Since Trump took office, an emboldened Israel has approved more than 14,000 additional settlement units in the West Bank.
Just hours after the violence on Wednesday, 12-year-old Jibril held on tight to his Palestinian flag and told me, “We are strong. We will fight [the Israeli forces].” He then looked at the ground and added, “but really, I just want to play.”
Palestinians have the right to live in dignity and justice. Palestinian children have the right to a normal childhood. And we will continue to struggle so that perhaps the next generation of Palestinian children do not have to worry about losing their homes and having no education, so they do not have to wave flags at protests, inhale gas, be beaten and imprisoned under a merciless occupation.
We will continue to stand with the residents of Khan al-Ahmar because their resistance is part of the greater struggle against the entire framework of Israel’s brutal settler-colonialism.
KEY FACTS: BEDOUIN COMMUNITIES
AT RISK OF FORCIBLE TRANSFER
United Nations (September 2014)
* Around 7,000 Palestinian Bedouins and herders, some 60% of them children, reside in 46 small residential areas, in Area C in the central West Bank.
* Over 70% of the residents are refugees, who were evicted from or fled their places of residence in southern Israel in the early 1950’s.
* Approximately 90% of the people depend on herding as their primary source of income.
* Most of the families have pending demolition orders against their homes and over 85% lack connection to the electricity and water networks.
* Two-thirds of the communities reported facing settler violence during the past three years.
* Over 60% of the approximately 6,000 Palestinians forcibly displaced since 2008 due to the demolition of their homes in Area C, on the grounds that they had no building permits, lived in Bedouin/herding communities.
* More than 540,000 Israelis settlers live in West Bank settlements, which were built in contravention of international law; they receive preferential treatment in terms of the allocation of land, planning and provision of services.
1. Bedouin communities in the hills to the east of Jerusalem and in the central West Bank are at risk of forcible transfer due to a “relocation” plan advanced by the Israeli authorities.
The authorities have justified the plan claiming that the residents lack title over the land and that the relocation will improve their living conditions.
The residents, however, have not been genuinely consulted about the plan; they firmly oppose this plan and insist on their right to return to their original homes and lands in southern Israel. In the meantime, they have requested protection and assistance in their current location, including adequate planning and permits for their homes and livelihoods.
2. Various Israeli practices have created a coercive environment, which functions as a “push factor”.
These practices include the restriction of access to grazing land and markets; the denial of access to basic infrastructure; the rejection of applications for building permits; and the demolition and threat of demolition of homes, schools and animal shelters. The authorities have also largely failed to protect the communities from intimidation and attacks by Israeli settlers.
3. The designated “relocation” sites are inadequate and raise serious humanitarian concerns.
They include three new “townships” to be developed on public (“state”) land that the Israeli authorities allocated for this purpose in Area C. Some of the planning schemes for the new “townships” have been recently deposited for public review, towards their final approval.
Due to a number of reasons, including the limited availability of grazing land at the designated sites, the relocation is expected to undermine the traditional livelihoods and culture of the communities, as was the case for 150 Bedouin families who were relocated from this area in the late 1990s. One of the sites is also located next to a refuse dump site, raising serious health concerns.
4. Some of the communities are currently located in an area that has been allocated for the expansion of Israeli settlements.
This includes the E1 plan, which entails the construction of thousands of new settlement housing and commercial units, creating a continuous built-up area between the Ma’ale Adummim settlement and Jerusalem.
The affected area is also planned to be surrounded by the Barrier. If implemented, these plans will undermine Palestinian presence in the area, further disconnect East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, and disrupt the territorial contiguity of the occupied territory.
5. The UN Secretary-General has stated that the implementation of the proposed “relocation” would amount to individual and mass forcible transfers and forced evictions, prohibited under international humanitarian law and human rights law.
As an occupying power, Israel has an obligation to protect the civilian population in the occupied territory and administer it for the benefit of that population. The destruction or confiscation of private property, including homes, as well as the transfer of settlers into occupied territory, is also prohibited.
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