British MPs visit Khan al Ahmar, a community at risk of forcible transfer

Last week, a cross-party group of UK Members of Parliament visited Khan al Ahmar, a Bedouin community in the West Bank threatened with imminent demolition and forcible transfer by the Government of Israel.

Tim Loughton MP (Con), Christine Jardine MP (LD) and Faisal Rashid (Lab) visited the occupied West Bank last week to witness the challenges faced by Palestinians living under Israel’s 51-year military occupation, accompanied by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and Caabu.

The visit came during a critical time. Days earlier, an Israeli High Court of Justice upheld Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision, announced in August 2017, to “evacuate” Khan al Ahmar and all of its residents. The court’s rejection of the community’s final appeal means that bulldozers may arrive at any time to demolish the entire village.

The community comprises approximately 180 members of the Jahalin tribe, who were forced from their lands in the Naqab/Negev desert by Israel in the 1950s. After enduring decades of coercion and harassment, they are now long- established at their site just east of Jerusalem, between two large illegal Israeli settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim. Israel’s intention to demolish the community is reportedly linked to the intention to create a continuous settlement bloc in the Jerusalem periphery, in what is known as the E1 area.

Khan al Ahmar is located in what is known as ‘Area C’, the 60% of the West Bank where Israel, the occupying power, has refused to cede any of its full civil and military control. Permits to build permanent infrastructure are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain. The community’s petitions for a “master plan” to develop its infrastructure have been denied.

During the visit, the MPs met local spokesperson Eid Abu Khamis, who explained the community’s history and long legal battle to stay on their land. He explained how even Khan al Ahmar’s famous school – built with international cooperation and serving 170 boys and girls from surrounding communities – is threatened with demolition.

The MPs witnessed the work of the MAP-supported mobile clinic, which provides primary healthcare, particularly to children and pregnant women, as well as supplying health advice and hygiene kits. It is a literal lifeline for Khan al Ahmar and 26 other communities in Area C, all of which are prevented from building permanent healthcare centres.

Staff explained the many threats to the health of residents caused by their isolation, inadequate access to water and electricity, and high rates of malnutrition, accidents, and hygiene-related illness exacerbated by their precarious living conditions. Harassment by settlers and the constant threat to homes and livelihoods also take a heavy toll on the community’s psychological wellbeing.

Following the visit, Tim Loughton MP said:

“Were Israel truly acting in accordance with international law and in the best interests of the Palestinian population under their control, communities like Khan al Ahmar should be thriving. Instead they eke out a living on the margins while illegal settlements eat up the West Bank. The sense of injustice is palpable, and highlights a global failure to bring the supposedly temporary 51-year occupation finally to an end.

“Khan al Ahmar’s beautiful school demonstrates just how seriously this tiny community takes its own development, despite all attempts to harass, coerce and remove them. The community’s children deserve a better future, and we should be doing all we can to help them realise their potential.”

International warnings of forcible transfer

The High Court’s green light to the eviction of Khan al Ahmar has been met with international condemnation. UN human rights experts have warned that it would “likely amount to forcible transfer” – a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, has similarly stated:

“Demolitions of private property continue, including punitive demolitions, which constitute a deplorable form of collective punishment. The small Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar, just east of Jerusalem, is at high risk of forcible transfer.”

This warning has been further echoed by international human rights organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem, who sent a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials cautioning that forcibly evacuating Khan al Ahmar “would constitute a war crime carried out at your instruction and under your personal responsibility.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has expressed that he is “deeply concerned by the proposed demolition of the village,” remarking that “Palestinians have found it virtually impossible to obtain building permits in Area C of the West Bank, an unacceptable situation that leaves them with little option except to build without permission.” He also highlighted the UK’s opposition, stating:

“The UN has said that the proposed demolitions could amount to “forcible transfer”, in violation of International Humanitarian Law. The British Government has consistently urged Israel not to proceed and I repeat that call today.”

International presence at Khan al Ahmar – which has involved diplomats, NGOs and international media – is keeping the community’s plight in the public eye, and may be helping them to hold on. But as the headlines fade and interest wanes, the threat of demolition and forcible transfer will only grow.

Christine Jardine MP, speaking after the visit, said:

“In Khan al Ahmar we saw international, Palestinian and Israeli civil society pulling together to try to protect a single village in the face of intense coercion. The UK must play its part by continuing to stand with them and outlining what genuine consequences will result should Israel commit the grave crime of forcible transfer.”

Khan al Ahmar is just one of 46 Bedouin and herder communities in the West Bank at high risk of forcible transfer. The MAP-supported mobile clinic pays visits to 12 of these communities.

International pressure is essential to halt this preventable crime and ensure that these communities are finally allowed not only to stay on Palestinian land but to develop and thrive on it too.

Take action

Please email your MP today urging them to sign, if they have not already done so, Early Day Motion 1169, "demolition plans for in Khan al-Ahmar village in the West Bank", which "calls on the Government to exert meaningful and decisive political, diplomatic and economic pressure on the Israeli authorities to halt the demolitions programme as a whole and, in particular, to abandon attempts to demolish the school and other buildings in Khan al-Ahmar".

You may wish to use the information above to help inform your email. You can find your MPs contact details here