Temporary furor erupted within the international community in 2018, over Israel’s decision to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in occupied East Jerusalem. The presence of international activists alongside the residents of Khan al-Ahmar forced world leaders to take note of an impending war crime, resulting in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponing the demolition and creating a rift with the far-right settlers.
Khan al-Ahmar is the only remaining Palestinian village between the settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim, and also the only remaining link between Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Without Khan al-Ahmar, Israel would be able to connect Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem.
As the US busied itself with the presidential elections, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz considered the probability – now a reality – that Israel would no longer benefit from the accelerated colonial process bequeathed by outgoing President Donald Trump. Starting with the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, the Trump administration’s policy was to create new diplomatic possibilities for colonization, resulting in the international community’s endorsement of Arab countries’ normalization of relations with Israel.
In Israel, Khan al-Ahmar recently returned to media headlines. The pro-settler group Regavim petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court about the government’s delay to destroy Khan al-Ahmar, prompting Netanyahu and Gantz to request an additional time frame to consider all details of implementing the demolition order. The residents of Khan al-Ahmar were to be forcibly displaced to the outskirts of Abu Dis, in a site located near a trash dump.
Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected Netanyahu’s request to extend the time frame – a victory for the settlers who call Khan al-Ahmar the Palestinian Authority’s “flagship case in the systematic takeover of land in Judea and Samaria,” in a typical Zionist reversal of the colonialist and the colonizer.
For Netanyahu and Gantz, the demolition poses no quandary.
For Netanyahu and Gantz, the demolition poses no quandary. It is a question of providing an illusion that counters the forced transfer of a civilian population, which is a war crime under international law, especially since the International Criminal Court specified that Israel’s settlement expansion constitutes a war crime. Preferably for Netanyahu, an agreement is reached with the Bedouin community that would blur the lines between forced transfer and a purported willingness to relocate – the latter reached through a forced consensus which would obscure Israel’s methods of ethnically cleansing Palestinians from their land.
Like other narratives of forced displacement, Khan al-Ahmar’s history is intrinsically woven with the Nakba and its aftermath. Israel’s colonization of the Naqab desert (called the Negev by Israel) perpetuated cycles of forced displacement among the Bedouin population. The villagers of Khan al-Ahmar have resided in the location since their displacement in 1951 and were denied permits to construct dwellings, in line with Israel’s plan to confiscate the land and connect the illegal settlements to Jerusalem – a step that would reinforce Israel’s de-facto annexation of Palestinian land.
Israel’s premise for the demolition is related to the purported illegality of the village. As is the case with Israel’s penchant for demolitions, Palestinians are rarely granted building permits, leaving the people with no option but to construct dwellings without official approval. From 2016 until 2018, only 1 percent of Palestinians were given permission to construct dwellings in Area C of the occupied West Bank – a total of 21 permits out of 1,485 applications.
Earlier this year, David Weinberg, the Vice President of The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, which provides advice to the Israeli government, penned an op-ed in which he advocated for dismantling the Palestinian Bedouin dwellings, including Khan al-Ahmar, in order for Israel to “rule emphatically in Area C.” Weinberg opined that since the Israeli Supreme Court has agreed to the forced transfer, there should be no hesitation from the Israeli government over how the international community could react.
In 2018, the late Saeb Erekat, then Chief Palestinian Negotiator and Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), filed a submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel’s demolition of Palestinian dwellings, including the slated destruction of Khan al-Ahmar. The Israeli government was advised that the ICC was most likely to prosecute war crimes related to its settler-colonial expansion.
While the international community acknowledged that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar would violate international law, it is the two-state politics that took precedence.
While the international community acknowledged that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar would violate international law, it is the two-state politics that took precedence over the Palestinians’ right to their land. A European Parliament resolution in 2018 deemed Khan al-Ahmar an area “of fundamental importance for the viability of the two-state solution and for the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state in the future.”
The international community, or the EU in this case, should have been asked to clarify its statement. Had Khan al-Ahmar not been considered of paramount importance for the hypothetical two-state paradigm, would the EU have busied itself with resolutions concerning a single Palestinian village, or diplomatic visits to temporarily halt the demolition, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel carried out?
In 2020, Israel has carried out 689 demolitions in the occupied West Bank so far. The latest Israeli demolition of Khirbet Humsah in the Jordan Valley, also located in Area C, attracted little attention from the international community, as the US elections saturated media reports. Clearly, the international community has normalized the war crime of forced transfer of civilians. Normalizing colonial settlement expansion, therefore, is complementary to the diplomacy that claims to support Palestine while exploiting it relentlessly.
The latest Israeli demolition of Khirbet Humsah in the Jordan Valley attracted little attention from the international community.
With the attention Khan al-Ahmar garnered two years ago, the UN and the EU could have lobbied for collective action against Israel’s ongoing expansion, particularly in light of the ICC’s clear admission that Israel’s actions against Palestinians amount to war crimes. Instead, world leaders appeased Israel by the perfunctory, critical statements which make no difference to the colonial expansionist agenda.
Khan al-Ahmar was a missed opportunity that ended up exploited to preserve the two-state politics. While the Bedouin residents worried about losing their land and humble dwellings, the UN and the PA were busying themselves with the village’s importance only within the two-state context, using the people’s resistance for futile propaganda purposes. Forced transfer, after all, has always been addressed as a statistical detail, to take the edge off the fact that Palestinians are living war crimes daily.
Two years later, Khan al-Ahmar is facing the demolition threat yet again, in a murkier political context as a result of Israel’s shelved annexation plans, which the international community hailed a positive scenario.
With Israel’s courts now pressuring the government to carry out the demolition, and the likelihood of Trump’s policies regarding Israel to influence settlement expansion in the coming years, regardless of Biden’s preference for the two-state paradigm, Khan al-Ahmar will be within the crosshairs of colonization. Only this time, international criticism will take into consideration the normalization agreements with Israel and how these will turn a blind eye to the ongoing colonial violations of Palestinians’ rights.
Despite Khan al-Ahmar being considered of strategic importance for a “contiguous Palestinian state,” the international community knows it has advanced in its pretense of upholding human rights since the normalization agreements. Arab countries have normalized relations with Israel and are still calling for the two-state compromise to be implemented. A triumph for the UN, which uses the same contradiction of adhering to the two-state paradigm while disregarding the forced transfer of Palestinians and colonial expansion.