Khan al-Ahmar: “This is the ethnic cleansing of Area C”

By EA Adrian

The atmosphere is tense. There are soldiers perched on a bulldozer. Ministers from the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and activists from the Palestine Liberation Organization are squatting in its blade. Journalists form a circle, everyone filming one another warily. A police officer takes up a megaphone and announces that if protesters continue to block the bulldozer’s path they will be forcibly removed. The Palestinians discuss their next move.

Qasam Awad of the PNA’s Colonization & Wall Resistance Commission explains: “They want to demolish 46 Bedouin communities and relocate them, 23 in East Jerusalem. This is the ethnic cleansing of Area C. We don’t want to fight anyone but have refused to leave.”

KhanAlAchmarEAsobservingastensionbuildsaroundthebulldozer. PhotoEAPPI.AdrianEAs observing as tension builds around the bulldozer. Photo: EAPPI/EA Adrian

Within minutes, Israeli Defense Forces reinforcements come down the hill and surround the blade of the bulldozer. The crowd roils as a further warning is issued, and then the soldiers begin grabbing Palestinians and hauling them away. There are cries of “Shame on you!” In the confusion and dust, members of the press are also shoved and pushed aside. The bulldozer begins to inch forward and, after further attempts to impede its progress, the protesters relent. It resumes work, preparing access for the trucks that will eventually be used in the demolition of this village.

A Bedouin community

This is Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community displaced from the Negev after the 1948 war. It is under imminent threat of demolition and displacement for a second time. Khan al-Ahmar is in Area C which, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, comprises over 60 per cent of the West Bank, where Israel retains near exclusive control, including over law enforcement, planning and construction. Most of Area C has been allocated for the benefit of Israeli settlements or the Israeli military, at the expense of Palestinian communities.

All buildings require a permit in the occupied territory otherwise the Israeli government deems them illegal. The problem is that the odds of a Palestinian receiving a building permit in Area C – even on privately owned land – are slim to none, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Furthermore Israel is in breach of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits forcible transfers by occupying powers.

KhanAlAchamrPAactivistsblockingthebulldozer.PhotoEAPPI.AdrianPNA activists blocking the bulldozer. Photo: EAPPI/EA Adrian

Conflict fault line

The Bedouin refugees of 1948 based themselves near the Wadi Qelt because it is the only river that has water throughout the year. It also gave them access to the livestock market in Jerusalem. But they had unwittingly positioned themselves in a corridor between Jerusalem and Jericho. Since 1967, this corridor has become one of the major fault lines in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As B’Tselem explains, “For years Israel has been endeavoring to displace this community for a variety of reasons, including the expansion of nearby settlements, de facto annexation of the area – without its Palestinian residents – and bisecting the West Bank, cutting it in two.”

Parts of the wadi have now been designated a nature reserve (a common tactic for expanding Israeli territory, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem). This means that the 180 residents of Khan al-Ahmar now have to pay for water and land to graze sheep and goats. The community no longer has access to the Jerusalem market either, since the Israeli Civil Administration has banned the passing of fresh produce through the checkpoint into the city. Before 2000, the community had 1,600 sheep. Now it has only 140 animals. This has brought the economy to the point of collapse.

“Every year we have to sell more animals to buy food for the rest of the animals,” explains Ibrahim, cousin of the community leader Abu Khamis.  Ibrahim also describes frequent harassment from settlers in the nearby settlement at Ma’ale Adumim: “There are now grates on the school windows because the settlers came and broke them. Our dogs have been poisoned.”

International criticism

In response to international criticism of the potential transfer of the Bedouin, Israel is constructing an ‘urban relocation centre’ at al-Jabal West in Abu Dis. Ibrahim says that the new site is completely unsuitable for shepherding animals. As EAs we verified this when we visited. It looked like a zoo enclosure was being constructed. It is surrounded by a thunderous main road, and is cheek by jowl with Palestinians and another Bedouin community. Objections to the plan have been submitted by the Palestinians living there.

Whatever the politics involved, these are anxious days for the Bedouin, as they wait for the next court decision on the 15th August.

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Michael Lynk, the UN’s Special Rapporteur, has warned that, “Many more Palestinian communities in Area C are at risk in the near future of forcible transfer. Within the E1 area alone, there are 17 other Bedouin communities which face the same coercive environment, and the same fate as Khan al-Ahmar,”

“To be effective, the international community must be prepared to hold Israeli decision-makers legally and diplomatically accountable for their unlawful actions. They must demand that Israel halts all measures that could result in forcible transfer, enlist diplomatic and political support to end the systemic human rights abuses to which Palestinians in the occupied territory are subjected, and ensure the occupation is ended.”

Write to your elected representatives and make the above requests of them in support of the residents of Khan al-Ahmar.