“We came here after they kicked us out of our homelands during the Nakba and now they want to kick us out of this land” - Israeli Supreme Court ruling on Khan al Ahmar

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) strongly condemns yesterday’s ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court in favour of demolishing the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, which places the community at risk of forcible transfer.  

Khan al Ahmar is one of 27 Bedouin communities in Area C which is visited regularly by the MAP-supported mobile clinic.

Delegations of British parliamentarians coordinated by MAP and Caabu often go to the village’s primary school and have witnessed the harm caused to Bedouin communities living in Area C, 60% of the West Bank where Israel maintains full civil and military control.

It has been reported that the hearing was the final appeal open to the community after Israeli authorities issued demolition orders to 40 homes and the primary school in the village in February 2017.

Located between two illegal Israeli settlements in the periphery of Jerusalem, Khan al Ahmar is home to some 35 families originating from the Jahalin Bedouin tribe. The community has had their homes and schools, mostly made of corrugated metal and wood, demolished by Israeli forces several times in past years.

Israel reportedly intends to demolish the village as part of the E1 settlement plan, aimed at creating a continuous built-up illegal settlement area between Ma’ale Adumim settlement and East Jerusalem. On the same day as the court ruling, Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, announced 2,500 new illegal settlement units in the West Bank.

Eid Abu Khamis, the spokesperson for Bedouin communities in the Jerusalem district and a resident of Khan al Ahmar said: “Area C was constructed around us and our homes, not the other way around. The Bedouin moved to Khan al Ahmar in 1953 when the area was under Jordanian control after they were expelled from Israel's Negev desert. We came here after they [Israel] kicked us out of our homelands during the Nakba and now they want to kick us out of this land, where we have lived for more than 60 years."

In its ruling, Israel’s Supreme Court said it found “no reason to intervene in the decision of the minister of defence to implement the demolition orders issued against the illegal structures in Khan al-Ahmar”. The residents would be relocated elsewhere, it added. Such transfer constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and would amount to forcible transfer, a war crime under international humanitarian law.

It is reported that the community could be be moved to an area near a landfill in Abu Dis, a West Bank suburb of East Jerusalem, based on previous Israeli government plans.

The court ruled that Khan al Ahmar was built without the relevant building permits. However, Palestinians are routinely prevented from building permanent infrastructure due to a restrictive and discriminatory planning regime which makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain Israeli building permits.

Human Rights Watch has noted that "the Israeli military refuses to permit most new Palestinian construction in the 60 percent of the West Bank where it has exclusive control over planning and building, even as the military facilitates settler construction".

The demolition of Khan al Ahmar would constitute a severe threat to the residents’ rights to housing, education and health which Israel is obliged to respect as the occupying power. As well as the physical health challenges Bedouin communities face, fear of imminent demolitions impacts the psychological wellbeing of the community, especially its youngest members.

At the 9th annual Lancet Palestinian Health Alliance conference in Beirut, MAP heard how fear of imminent demolitions impacts children’s mental health. Research presented by Umaiyeh Khammash, Salwa G Massad and Rosalyn Shute stated: “All school children expressed fear of losing their school due to the demolition order”.

In 2016, the UN Security Council passed a resolution that condemned "all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem".

Yesterday’s ruling passed despite condemnation from the international community. Last week the head of the British consulate-general in Jerusalem, Philip Hall, visited the village. He remarked that the demolition was “matter of great concern for the UK and indeed for the European Union”.

He also reflected that “the Israeli government should be granting planning permission to enable the people of Khan Al Ahmar to live here decently.”

The EU has also sharply criticised plans to forcibly transfer Khan al-Ahmar's residents.

"The practice of enforcement measures such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions and confiscations of homes and humanitarian assets (including EU-funded) and the obstruction of delivery of humanitarian assistance are contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law," Lars Faaborg-Andersen said last year, when he was serving as the EU's ambassador to Israel.

Shlomo Lecker, the lawyer representing the village, said the verdict "takes away the absolute minimal protection the Bedouin communities received until recently from the court".

"By any standard of international humanitarian law, the verdict is an approval by the Israeli court of a crime against humanity," Mr Lecker said in a statement.

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