Israel’s planned expulsion of the residents of Khan al-Ahmar and the destruction of their village in the occupied West Bank is a war crime, human rights groups are warning.
Earlier this month, Israeli occupation authorities informed members of the community that they would be relocated to a new site, even though legal proceedings are ongoing in Israeli courts.
This has raised fears among UN officials that the expulsion may happen any day.
B’Tselem warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials that they would be personally liable for war crimes if they go ahead with the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, a second village, to make way for Israeli settlements.
“The demolition of entire communities in the occupied territories is virtually unprecedented since 1967,” the Israeli human rights group added.
This land east of Jerusalem is where Israel plans to expand its mega-settlement of Maaleh Adumim, completing the isolation of the northern and southern parts of the West Bank from each other.
All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law.
Khan al-Ahmar is home to members of the Jahalin tribe, including 32 Bedouin families, numbering approximately 173 people.
It is one of 12 Palestinian communities, with a total of about 1,400 residents, in the area east of Jerusalem which face Israeli expulsion.
Palestinian residents of Khan al-Ahmar have previously petitioned the Israeli high court to halt demolition orders targeting all of the village’s structures.
The high court has also received petitions from the settlement of Kfar Adumim demanding that the only school in Khan al-Ahmar be demolished, along with more than 250 other Palestinian structures in the area.
Israeli authorities have also asked for the high court’s blessing to complete the forcible transfer by April 2018.
The court canceled a hearing that had been set for Monday to discuss the case, pending further filings.
Israel wants to force Khan al-Ahmar’s residents to move to an area called “al-Jabal West,” located near the landfill of the Palestinian village of Abu Dis. This is an area to which Israel previously forcibly relocated Jahalin families in the 1990s to make way for Maaleh Adumim.
If the planned expulsion proceeds, this would be the second time the community of Khan al-Ahmar is forcibly displaced. The families were initially expelled from the Naqab region by the Israeli military in the 1950s.
This week, B’Tselem said that if Israel demolishes Khan al-Ahmar’s school or forces residents out, including by making their conditions unlivable, “this would violate the prohibition on forcible transfer set in international humanitarian law.”
B’Tselem added: “Such a violation constitutes a war crime, and all persons involved in its implementation would bear personal liability – including the prime minister, senior cabinet members, the chief of staff and the head of the Civil Administration” – Israel’s occupation bureaucracy.
Israel has tried to divert attention from the forcible transfer by claiming that relocation will benefit Khan al-Ahmar’s residents.
But human rights groups, including Israel’s Bimkom, stress that forcible transfer is prohibited regardless of the motive. It would also harm the rural lifestyle and livelihood of the already impoverished communities.
The villagers rely on grazing land and proximity to other Bedouin tribes for their lifestyle.
Israel has previously tried to relocate the families onto land confiscated from other Palestinian communities, a proposal that was rejected by all those who would have been affected.
This is the approximately 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under complete Israeli military rule under the terms of the Oslo accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the early 1990s.
Israel refuses to permit virtually any Palestinian construction in Area C, forcing Palestinians to build without permits and to live in constant fear that their homes will be demolished.
Khan al-Ahmar’s school was built in 2009 out of rubber tires and mud in an attempt to evade Israel’s restriction on Palestinians using cement for construction.
But Israel found another excuse to order the school’s demolition, claiming it was too close to the main road.
The school was built with funding from the European Union and other European donors who have done nothing to hold Israel accountable for the destruction of tens of millions of dollars of projects they have supported.
Last month, Israel destroyed two European-funded schools in the West Bank.
“Here to stay forever”
In addition to demolition, Israel tries to force Palestinians out of their homes by making living conditions unbearable.
Israel has dismantled and confiscated solar panels from Khan al-Ahmar, barred direct access between the village and the main road and deprived it of basic services such as water, sewage, electricity and access to transport.
Israel’s renewed commitment to demolish Khan al-Ahmar comes only weeks after Netanyahu participated in a celebration of 50 years of Israeli settlement in the northern West Bank.
“We are here to stay forever,” Netanyahu told the crowd. “There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel.”
Israeli media reported this week that Israel’s government is pushing forward plans for an additional 2,000 settler housing units in the occupied West Bank.