Residents of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar are constantly living in fear that their village could be razed to the ground by Israeli authorities. Tania Krämer reports on how they're coping with the uncertainty.
Just off of a busy highway between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea area, the tiny Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar barely attracts attention with its makeshift shacks and flocks of sheep and goats wandering around the sandy hills. But lately it has become the focus of international attention and after an almost 10-year long legal battle with Israel, the village faces demolition
Um Mohammed sits on a mat in front of her tin-roofed makeshift house. The sandy ground is neatly combed underneath a big tree that provides some shade on this hot late-summer afternoon.
"It's horrible. What more can I say. It's not easy when you know that at any moment the soldiers can come and demolish everything here," she told DW. It is the uncertainty that is unbearable. "We're really tired and I keep asking myself what I should do, how should I rebuild our home?" Any day now the bulldozers could move in. Access roads for the heavy machinery were prepared early in the summer.
In May, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the village would be demolished, but did not set a specific date. The villagers immediately petitioned the court and the demolition order was temporarily halted. Settler organizations also petitioned the court to go ahead with the demolition. In September, the Supreme Court finally gave the green light to tear down the village. Ten days ago, soldiers distributed a notice by the Israeli civil-military administration which administers the occupied West Bank. It stated that the village residents were "required to demolish all the structures on the site by October 1." That deadline has passed and it's unclear what happens next.
In its ruling the Supreme Court found that the "site was built without the required permits" and had, therefore, "rejected the petitions against the demolition." Israeli officials have also pointed to safety issues with the busy road nearby and the shaky structures of the village.
The approximately 180 inhabitants of the village have been left in a state of uncertainty. The UN, the European Parliament and EU member states, including Germany, have all criticized the demolition plans. Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet are due in Israel on Wednesday for government consultations. Whether the village's fate is on the agenda is unclear.
The UN has warned that international humanitarian law requires an occupying power to protect the population of the territory it occupies and that forcibly moving a population violates international law. However, back in July, the spokesperson for Israel's Foreign Ministry, Emanuel Nahshon, told DW that "we totally reject the allegation that this is a transfer of people in an occupied territory. The fact that the territory is disputed and the status of the territories is not clear does not mean that people are allowed to settle wherever they want in an illegal way."
Palestinians, however, say that it has been almost impossible for them to obtain building permits. The village is located near Jerusalem in the so-called area C, which makes up about 60 percent of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and where Israel has retained administrative and security control. Additionally, the village is next to the so-called E1 area, which divides the West Bank into north and south. This gives its location a strategic importance. It is also sandwiched between two large Israeli settlements: Maale Adumim and Kfar Adumim. Critics of the demolition plans say that once the village is demolished, those settlements could expand further around Jerusalem. This would, in effect, divide the occupied West Bank into two entities and would make the prospect of a contiguous future Palestinian state even more remote.
School under threat of demolition
A school in Khan al-Ahmar is also under threat. Despite the uncertainty, lessons still take place, but teachers say that the children are nervous. The school, where children from nearby Bedouin villages also study, was built in 2009 with the help of an Italian organization and EU funding.
Nisreen Abu Dahouk is one of the students who went to the school. She is not sure whether the demolition could still be prevented. "We lived here for such a long time. We built the school," the 15-year old says. "We are trying to get ahead. They saw us getting an education and now they want to demolish the school and our houses. Why?"
The thought of bulldozers razing her home makes her anxious but she tries to distract herself by helping to feed the family's goats, sheep and donkeys. "For a long time, they have been saying that our village should be demolished. And now it seems this is it, the decision is final. We can only wait."
The Israeli government has offered to relocate the residents of Khan al-Ahmar to an area in the nearby Palestinian town of Abu Dis, not far away from a large garbage dumping site. "Where shall we go? We have been refugees once, we are originally from Be'er Sheva," says villager Abu Mohammed. "It is the (Israeli) occupation that wants to force us to relocate again. But we won't go anywhere easily."