Israeli-Palestinian conflict focuses on condemned Bedouin village
The FT's Mehul Srivastava reports from Khan al Ahmar in Israel, which has been threatened with demolition after a decade-long legal battle, and explains how the settlement lies at the heart of the dispute over land east of Jerusalem.
Filmed by Tulik Galon. Produced by Josh de la Mare and Joe Sinclair. Additional footage and stills from Reuters and Getty.
- For 10 years, the nomadic Bedouin who live in the ramshackle village of Khan al Ahmar have fought a legal, diplomatic, and media battle to save their homes. That battle is expected to come to an end soon, despite a delay announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Both these villagers and Palestinian leaders expect Israeli bulldozers to demolish these few dozen huts. That would bring an end to a nearly half-century standoff between Jewish settlers and Arab villagers in the West Bank.
This tiny, dusty village has catapulted onto the global stage because of one simple fact, its location. Planted between two illegal Israeli settlements, Kfar Adumin, and Ma'ale Adumin, its very existence jeopardises expansion of Israeli infrastructure in the West Bank. Full Israeli control of this land would separate Ramallah and Bethlehem, the two largest Palestinian cities. If successful, it would dash the hopes of a viable Palestinian nation. Life here has always been difficult, even before the bulldozers. We visited in late August, when the villagers waited for a final Israeli Supreme Court ruling.
Residents described the decades spent in anticipation and fear.
The root of the problem is exactly 25 years old. In September, 1993, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords. They were designed to transfer the powers and responsibilities of the Israeli military occupation to the Palestinian authorities. But until that happens, some two-thirds of the West Bank are administered fully by the Israeli military. And some 99 per cent of building requests by Arabs are rejected. Meanwhile, some 400,000 Jews have been given permission to build vast, sprawling settlements. Under international law, the settlements are illegal. Under Israeli law, Khan al Ahmar is illegal.
The conversion of this area into a suburb of Jerusalem requires these two settlements, Kfar Adumin and Ma'ale Adumin, to continue growing. With the village demolished, the development plans will eventually allow these two areas to merge together. And if Israel annexes the land, it will also encircle the remaining Arab parts of East Jerusalem.
The settlers at Kfar Adumin were helped in their quest for expansion by Regavim, an NGO that took the case all the way to the Supreme Court with a very simple argument, the village was built without permission, and thus it should be demolished.
This one small patch actually sits on a junction that will bisect the country, north-south, east-west - it's right in a critical spot. When the Oslo Accords actually stated that the final decisions about this area should be reached through negotiation between the two sides. And the activity that we've seen by the Palestinian Authority has actually emptied those accords of all content, because they have, without negotiation, illegally, and in contravention of the Oslo Accords, built without building permits and without any planning. And this is state land. And the state of Israel, either as an occupier or as a sovereign, is the only authority who can and should issue building permits in this area.
The Bedouin villagers have fought back against this with help from their European partners, who helped build them a school for their children. Which meant they didn't have to brave the highway to catch buses to schools far away. And to make sure the school didn't need a building permit, they built it out of rubber tyres.
The Bedouin villagers tried, and eventually failed, to get an Israeli court to back them. Their lawyer for nearly a decade, Shlomo Lecker, says Israeli politics ended up trumping the human rights of the Arab villagers.
People should have the same rights. And there's absolutely no reason why they are mistreated the way they are, to live in the way they live now, in shacks without infrastructure, without the right to build schools, and to make choices in their life. What does it matter, 30 families, to the whole picture? But it became a symbol, and an important symbol, to the intentions of both sides. And what will happen there may have an effect on reality.
Khan al Ahmar is a first Bedouin village to be demolished in years. Settlers intend to use this ruling as a precedent for Palestinians who are now facing the most hostile US and Israeli administration in generations. Losing that land to settlers would mean only one thing, losing a viable Palestinian nation.