The Khan al-Ahmar area, east of Jerusalem, is home to 1,400 Palestinians who live in twelve small farming communities. One of these communities is al-Madrasah (literally: The School), with a population of 173 from the Jahalin Bedouin tribe. Originally from the Tel Arad area, they ere expelled in the 1950s and moved to the area around Kfar Adumim, and after they were moved from here, settled in their current location . For the past decade, the al-Madrasah community has been waging a legal battle to reverse the demolition orders issued for every single structure in the community, including the school which serves 150 boys and girls from the area. The demolition orders were issued as a result of four petitions filed by the settler of Kfar Adumim demanding the demolition of the village, on the basis the structures had been built illegally, without permits.
Initially, in response to the community’s petitions to the High Court of Justice, Israel stated it was exploring alternative sites for the forced relocation. In August 2017, with legal proceedings still pending, Israel’s Minister of Defense said that the government would carry out the transfer in a matter of months. About a month later, the state informed the court at a hearing that it was planning to transfer the entire community to a site known as West al-Jabal, near the Abu Dis garbage dump, a decision opposed by the residents.
In its ruling, Justice Sohlberg said he was aware of the Bedouin opposition to the proposed alternative, but stressed that the discussion was about the demolition of buildings that were built without permits – and that he did not believe that the alternative was “so extreme in its unreasonableness” that it made the demolition order illegal.
He said he was aware “of the petitioners’ claims that the alternative of Jahalin West [the area allocated by the Civil Administration] does not suit their needs as residents and as schoolchildren. In fact, it cannot be implemented.” And it was clear to him that “the proposed plan is not to the satisfaction of those in possession of the buildings.” But he said the question was not whether the state’s plan met the requirements of the law, but whether the demolition order met the requirements of the law.”
Shlomo Lecker, the lawyer representing the village, said in a statement that “this verdict takes away the absolute minimal protection the Bedouin communities received until recently from the court”.
What did the justices fail to address? The simple fact that Israel has created a reality in the West Bank whereby Palestinian communities that have been around for decades are deemed “illegal,” and Palestinians across most of the West Bank have no way to build legally. According to B’Tselem, from 2006 to Sept. 2017, Israeli authorities demolished 26 homes in Khan al-Ahmar, displacing 132 Palestinians, 77 of whom were children and youths. Khan al-Ahmar is just one of 46 Bedouin communities in the occupied West Bank at risk of displacement and forcible transfer owing to Israeli policies, the UN has noted. According to Israeli Civil Administration data, between 2010 and 2014, Palestinians submitted 2,020 applications for building permits in Area C. Only 33 – just 1.5% – were approved. For comparison, 32,373 housing units were approved in Israeli settlements in Area C between 2012 and 2016. Meanwhile, OCHA have reported that there are 12,532 active demolition orders issued against Palestinian structures in Area C.
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