Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has already lasted over fifty years. For many Palestinians, callous military rule and inhumane, coercive legislation is the only reality they have ever known.
This week a delegation of Norwegian trade unionists visited the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, along with B’Tselem, the Israeli information center for human rights in the occupied territories. We met the villagers themselves and dozens of dedicated human rights activists who are preparing to peacefully prevent Israeli bulldozers and military from demolishing the homes of 200 people, almost half of whom are children.
This small village, not far from Jerusalem, has been bruised and battered by Israeli state forces several times over. There is a tangible tension in the camp as we meet under cover of a Bedouin tent. Armed troops can arrive again at any time and raze the village to the ground.
Recently images of the case went viral online following the publication of a video recording showing fully armed Israeli military attacking and beating men, women and children at the entrance to the village which has led to the village becoming an international focal point for the Palestinian struggle.
Israeli colonisation of the Palestinian West Bank is illegal according to international law and yet it continues unabated with over 600,000 Israelis now occupying Palestinian land. Emboldened by the advent of Trump to the Whitehouse, the right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is being given all the leeway it needs to crush the prospect of a two-state solution, negotiated through the Oslo accords, where both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace.
Khan al-Ahmar is located near Jerusalem, between the new Israeli colony of Ma’ale Adumim and one of its elite suburbs, Kfar Adumim. Eid Khamis, the village spokesperson sees a clear strategy behind the recent brutal assaults on the villagers and events on a national and international scale. “The Israeli government wants to split the Palestinian West Bank in two and we are in their way.” Khamis, describes the campaign to demolish Palestinian homes as no less important than the decision to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “Both these decisions mean annexing more Palestinian land to Israel.”
During our time together Khamis was at pains to stress that the people living in the nearby Israeli colonies are not ordinary citizens or naïve pawns in a political game being manipulated by their government. They include several members of the Israeli parliament and a government minister.
The siege of Khan al-Ahmar is clearly an intricate part of an Israeli military strategy. The annexation of this area renders the negotiated two-state solution virtually impossible as it would cut East Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank and signal the end of any hope of a future Palestinian state.
According to the U.N. Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recent years have seen Israel aggressively escalating the demolition of Palestinian homes. Palestinian farming and shepherding communities are dotted all over the West Bank. The Israeli authorities are implementing a policy aimed at driving these communities out. The aim being to make living conditions intolerable and force residents to leave, ostensibly of their own volition.
Khamis explains that part of this policy is the refusal by Israeli authorities to grant permits for any construction of residential or public structures in communities like Khan al-Ahmar, whilst also refusing access to water and electricity or planning permission for paved access roads to the communities.
When, in the absence of any other alternative, residents build without permits, the authorities move in and demolish the “illegal” structures. In many of the local communities, families have had their homes demolished several times over.
The Israelis also destroy infrastructure laid or installed by the residents themselves – such as wells, roads and solar panels for generating electricity – and confiscate water tanks or cut water pipes.
The children of Khan al-Ahmar seem oblivious to the chaos surrounding them and are curious about their visitors but respectfully keep their distance whilst the grown-ups talk. If the village is torn down, children from the entire area, not just from Khan al-Ahmar, will lose their school and without it, they will have no access to basic education.
The international pressure on Israel has grown steadily as the struggle for Khan al-Ahmar continues. Last week the European Parliament passed a resolution stating that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its residents would constitute a grave breach of international humanitarian law and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – in other words, a war crime.
Israel has, been repeatedly, systemically and blatantly violating the human rights of the residents of these communities for decades. It is a policy that runs counter to international humanitarian law and it needs to be confronted by the international community. And it needs to be confronted – now.
Yesterday the Israeli military served yet another threat to the people of Khan al-Ahmar in the form of a letter stating: “You have until 1st October to demolish your homes and the army is willing to help you with transportation. if you don’t the authority will enforce demolition.”
More international pressure is clearly needed. Time is running out for the children of Khan al-Amhar. Make your voice heard. Contact your Ministry for Foreign Affairs and express your concern. Contact the Israeli embassy if you feel that is appropriate. Talk to your elected representatives and urge them to do the same. Do you what you feel is right but please do not let this massive injustice pass by unnoticed.