Doomed village turns to Europe as last hope
KHAN AL-AHMAR ( West Bank): For the anxious Palestinian residents of Khan al-Ahmar, there’s little left to do but wait.
After the West Bank hamlet lost its last legal protection against demolition late last week, Israeli forces could swoop in any day now to tear down the desert community’s few dozen shacks and an Italian-funded schoolhouse made from recycled tires.
Some hold out hope that Israel might be deterred by an inevitable international outcry over razing the community. Major European countries have warned that flattening Khan al-Ahmar poses a grave threat to the already fading prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
The seemingly outsized international attention being paid to the tiny community is linked to its strategic location in the centre of the West Bank. It’s an area deemed essential for setting up a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in 1967.
Israel has portrayed the battle over Khan al-Ahmar as a mere zoning dispute. Critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies say the village has become a symbol for what they describe as an ongoing displacement of Palestinians to make room for Israeli settlements.
With demolition now looming, dozens of activists, including for- eigners, have been spending nights in Khan al-Ahmar to show support. They sleep on mattresses spread out under green tarp covering the front yard of the Italian-funded school.
“We cannot prevent demolition,” said activist Mohammed Abu Hilweh, 30, from Jerusalem, as he stretched out on a mattress on a recent evening.
“But we can resist, delay and when it happens, we can rebuild.”
Khan al-Ahmar is located a few dozen metres from a four-lane highway that runs east-west, effectively slicing the West Bank in half at a narrow waist and linking Jerusalem with the Jordan Valley.
The highway is also flanked by several Israeli settlements, includ- ing Maaleh Adumim, the West Bank’s third largest.
A new settlement across the highway from Maaleh Adumim, called E1 by Israeli planners, would effectively block the remaining land link between West Bank Palestinians and east Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital. Khan al-Ahmar sits just outside the area mapped for E1, which until now had largely been frozen under US pressure.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, called the planned demolition a “blatant attempt” by Israel to separate the Palestinians from Jerusalem.
“It is absolutely imperative that the international community intervene,” she said.