Residents of Illegal Bedouin Settlement Threaten Officials With War Crime Charges

Palestinian boys sit in the Bedouin village of al-Khan al-Ahmar near Jericho. (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

Residents of the Bedouin encampment Khan al-Ahmar, illegally built on state land adjacent to Maale Adumim, have sent a warning letter to Israeli officials, saying that they would resist the planned eviction of the encampment and that they would hold any Israeli official who tries to throw them out of their homes responsible. “To all soldiers, officers, or police, or any worker or manager in the Civil Administration and/or the IDF, or any other individual who plans to take part in the destruction of the village of Khan al-Ahmar and the forced removal of its residents,” read the letter. “You are hereby warned that destruction of the village would be a serious violation of international law, which is an offense that would be tried on the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The State of Palestine is a recognized entity in the Court, and thus this would be considered a war crime.”

The letter was issued Tuesday in the wake of an order issued by the Civil Authority Monday to the residents of the encampment: Leave voluntarily by October 1, or be evicted forcibly. “If you fail to do this, the authorities will fulfill the order of eviction, in line with the decision of the High Court,” reads the eviction order.

The High Court several weeks ago paved the way for demolition of encampment. The court had previously in May given its permission to go ahead with the evacuation and demolition of the encampment, but froze the process after Bedouin and leftist groups petitioned against the demolition in July.

In its decision, the court said that while it understood the concerns of petitioners against the demolition, “there is no doubt that the construction here was illegal, and there is no disputing this. Under these circumstances, we have no choice but to accept the state’s position and order the demolition of the structures.”

The Khan al-Ahmar case had been before the court for nine years, and the decision to demolish came in response to a petition by local community groups and the Regavim organization, which acts as a watchdog on illegal Arab building. Khan al-Ahmar is located right off Road 1, between Kfar Adumim and the Mishor Adumim industrial zone. Its residents were originally traditional Bedouin wanderers who settled in the area after the Six Day War. They had originally been seasonal residents of various areas of southern Israel, moving to different locations along with the seasons, and in the 1950s were moved further north by the IDF.

Many Bedouin now prefer permanent housing, and the state has developed a plan that would provide legal housing for the village’s residents, which they have turned down. However, the court said that the solution proposed by the state was “not so radical as to be called unreasonable,” although it does agree with the defendants that the plan “is not perfect.” Nevertheless, the solution is sufficient to justify enforcing the state’s rights to use the land for public purposes.

The demolition decision became a cause celebré among leftists and European governments. Last year, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the EU’s ambassador to Israel, said “The practice of enforcement measures such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions and confiscations of homes and humanitarian assets and the obstruction of delivery of humanitarian assistance are contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law.”

The fact that the encampment was located next to the highway was an important factor in its decision, the court said. “There is no likelihood of a retroactive permit process for these structures. The structures are located on land that is meant to be developed for the expansion of the road, in a plan that has been authorized and approved. Given that, it is likely that the land will not be used to house anyone in the future,” it said in its decision.

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