Israel is about to destroy this Palestinian village. Will Britain step in?
Israel is intent on destroying the homes of the 173 Palestinians who live in the small shepherding community of Khan al-Ahmar, along with the school that serves 150 children from the area. Last month, Israel’s high court of justice removed the last obstacle to this barbaric act of demolishing an entire community in order to forcibly transfer its residents and take over their land. Israel has announced that the land from which these Palestinians will be evicted will serve to expand the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim.
The story of Khan al-Ahmar exemplifies Israel’s policy of expelling dozens of Palestinian communities from areas it plans to formally annex. To keep international criticism to a minimum, Israel usually tries to evict residents slowly by creating unbearable living conditions that force them to leave their homes, allegedly of their own free will. To that end, the authorities refuse to connect these communities to running water and power grids, do not authorise construction of homes or other structures and restrict their pastureland.
Now, emboldened by Donald Trump’s overt disdain for human rights – or basic human decency for that matter – and bolstered by the Israeli idea that the European Union is too weak to act decisively, the authorities have stepped up their efforts and issued demolition orders for all the structures in Khan al-Ahmar. Justice Noam Sohlberg, who wrote the ruling that rejected the petition against the execution of these orders, noted the “undisputed” premise that “construction in the Khan al-Ahmar compound, both the school and the dwellings, is unlawful”. He went on to argue that the court should not interfere in the
state’s “law enforcement” actions.
However, these residents are not breaking the law deliberately. Israeli policy has prevented them from even applying for building permits. This has left them no choice but to build without permits and, as no community remains stagnant, they have had to continue developing and building that way. The same planning authorities that were so inefficient in drawing up a master plan for the community or connecting it to water, power and sewage services were incredibly effective when it came to issuing demolition orders. If the community cannot build legally, the court ruling that their construction is illegal is cynical, formalistic and manipulative.
There is no way to sugar-coat it: our government intends to commit an act that could constitute a war crime. Our high court did not use its power to stop this, and instead chose to lend a guise of legality to this reprehensible act. By doing so, the court is now complicit in the liability for the decisions of the main culprits: the prime minister, the minister of defence and top generals.
If Israel is allowed to carry through with the forcible transfer of this relatively well established community, it will be that much easier to do the same to dozens of smaller communities. Moreover, the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar will have significant repercussions for possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: clearing the area from Palestinians will effectively bisect the West Bank from north to south.
On 5 June, we marked 51 years since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in the 1967 war. What the international community and the United Kingdom interpret as a temporary situation that should end in two states, Israel views as an interim stage that will end with formal annexation of most of the Palestinian land.
Britain has all the necessary means to prevent the outrage of forcible transfer: it is an important global actor, a permanent member of the UN security council and a member of Nato. It has robust cultural, diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel, with more than $7bn in annual bilateral trade. These assets give the British government enough leverage to save the people of Khan al-Ahmar. Does it possess the political will to use them?
• David Zonsheine is board chairman of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the occupied territories. He lives in Tel Aviv
The community of Khan Al-Ahmar.
Children play in Khan Al-Ahmar.