Residents of the illegally-built PA-Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar expect they will soon be evacuated as a key High Court of Justice deadline approaches.
The Bedouins of the Jahalin tribe built the village’s first structures without permits on state-owned land in the 1970s between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Its residents — around 200 adults and children — are not Israeli citizens. A decades-long legal battle appeared to end in May 2018 when an Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled the outpost could be demolished and its residents relocated.
Despite the ruling, the previous governments of Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid never evacuated Khan al-Ahmar.
In response to a petition filed by Regavim, a non-governmental organization that monitors illegal Palestinian Authority construction and land theft in Judea and Samaria, the High Court ordered the government to explain by February 1, 2023 why it has not evacuated the residents. Regavim was co-founded in 2006 by Betzalel Smotrich, who is now Finance Minister and also oversees the civil administration of Judea and Samaria.
The state wants to relocate the Bedouins several miles east, near the eastern Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis. But lawmakers from the right-wing Otzma Yehdudit party visited an area of land 300 meters west of Khan al-Ahmar earlier in January.
Outwardly, Bedouin leaders say the evacuation is part of an effort to reduce the PA Arab presence in Jerusalem and that they are ready for a confrontation. The Otzma Yehudit visit to the adjacent area is further proof, they say.
But a Bedouin source in Khan al-Ahmar told the Tazpit Press Service there is tension between the Bedouins and the PA.
“The PA will harass us if we agree to evacuate without a fight,” one of the heads of the tribe’s Abu Dahok family told TPS. He said that the Bedouin also fear that once they agree in principle to move, Israel will relocate them to a more distant area, such as near Jericho.
Furthermore, a representative of the Bedouins told TPS that the Palestinian Authority has effectively made them pawns in the fight over Jerusalem by taking away their ability to litigate with the Civil Administration.
“Even the lawyer who represents us does not hold any consultation with us. He only represents Ramallah’s position on this matter,” the residents’ representative told TPS.
In September, residents of the illegal outpost told TPS that, “the PA has made us hostages as part of the struggle it is waging against Israel for control of Mishor Adumim. If we agree to evacuate, it will take revenge on us.” Mishor Adumim is a nearby Israeli industrial zone.
The tribe has expressed interest in relocating to the Arad Valley, which is inside Israel. But Israeli officials have warned that granting residency to the Palestinian Authority residents would set a dangerous precedent.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that since the start of January, 38 illegal PA Arab buildings in the areas of Judea and Samaria were dismantled by Israel’s security forces.
“The situation in which Palestinians run amok with illegal construction,” declared Netanyahu, “in an attempt to establish facts on the ground – is over.”