Palestinians protested in and around Khan al-Ahmar on Wednesday, July 4, as Israeli forces began preparations to destroy the Arab-Bedouin village in the Palestinian occupied West Bank, despite international calls not to go ahead with the plan. Residents and activists climbed onto bulldozers and waved Palestinian flags in a bid to stop the demolition.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 35 people were injured, four of whom were taken to hospital. The Israeli rights group B’Tselem said nine people were arrested – five from the village and four others, including the organization’s head of field research.
Israeli army bulldozers were seen early Wednesday opening up roads that lead from the main Jerusalem-Jericho highway to Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, to facilitate access of bulldozers to the area designated for demolition, according to Walid Assaf, head of the Palestinian Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission.
Assaf told the Palestinian news agency WAFA that dozens of activists are currently at the site monitoring developments as Israel prepares to demolish the village which is home to more than 180 persons, including a school serving over 150 pupils from five nearby communities.
Assaf said the bulldozers started early in the morning removing rails on the main highway and leveling the land to the community to open access road for its heavy machinery to reach Khan al-Ahmar and demolish it. On Tuesday night Israel declared the area a closed military zone, shutting down roads and banning movement along them.
Israel wants to demolish the community to build a settlement on the land. The move has angered the international community and human rights organizations who demand that Israel cancel its measures against the Palestinian community and others in and around the area. Meanwhile, the Israeli military demolished two homes at two different locations in the Abu al-Nuwwar Bedouin community, east of Jerusalem, in preparation for demolishing Khan al-Ahmar community, said Assaf.
Joint List Chairman, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), called the planned demolition a “war crime which will leave entire families without a roof over their heads. People already evicted twice by the state, are now struggling for their homes and school which gives them hope.” This is not only a human injustice, Odeh said, but also a political maneuver by the government to sever and dismantle the Arab settlements in Area C and expand the Israeli settlement blocs, “thus preventing any chance for a Palestinian state and peace.”
MK Dov Khenin spoke before the Knesset plenum on Wednesday saying: “We call on the government to immediately cancel its unlawful plans to demolish the Palestinian community of Khan al-Ahmar. The fact that Israel wants to demolish an entire village in which its residents have been residing for fifty years for the sole purpose of expanding the illegal West Bank settlement of Kfar Adumim is outrageous and inhumane.”
Abroad, Britain’s Minister of State for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, called on the Israeli government to show restraint. He warned that any forced relocation “could constitute the forcible transfer of people as far as the United Nations is concerned”. Such an action would be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention, and therefore a war crime.
Britain noted that it reiterated its concerns to the Israeli government over the planned demolitions, a fact that Alistair Burt mentioned in response to a parliamentary question from Labour MP Richard Burden. “This morning, officials from our embassy in Tel Aviv and from our consulate general in Jerusalem visited Khan al-Ahmar to express our concern and demonstrate the international community’s support for that community,” said Burt. “In accordance with our long-standing policy, we therefore condemn such a move, which would strike a major blow to prospects for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.”
France also slammed Israel’s plans to demolish the Palestinian community. “The village is located in an area which is essential for the continuity of a future Palestinian state and thus the viability of the two-state solution, which has been undermined today by the Israeli authorities’ decisions,” French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von Der Muhll said in a statement.
The UN also expressed its dismay over recent Israeli actions. The office of Nikolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, tweeted that the envoy “condemns the demolitions at Abu al-Nuwwar and preparations to demolish Khan Al Ahmar.” “Israel should stop such actions and plans for relocating Bedouin communities in the occupied West Bank,” the tweet read. “Such actions are contrary to international law and undermine the two-state solution.”
The European Union joined the criticism early on Thursday, July 5, saying in a statement that the demolitions “together with plans for new settlement construction for Israelis in the same area, exacerbate threats to the viability of the two-state solution and further undermine prospects for a lasting peace.”
The statement further said that the EU “expects the Israeli authorities to reverse these decisions and fully meet its obligations as an occupying power under International Humanitarian Law.”
Ireland has also joined the condemnation of Israel’s plan to demolish the village of Khan al-Ahmar, with Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney saying on Wednesday night that he was “extremely worried about the imminent threat to the Bedouin community.” Coveney added that “The eviction of families and demolition of their homes is an action which has a strong historical resonance in Ireland, and which brings discredit on Israel.”
Coveney said, “Ireland has made these points clearly to Israeli representatives… I have also made Ireland’s views on settlements known directly to the Prime Minister of Israel.” He added that in light of his previous statements, he found it “deeply disappointing that Israel is nonetheless proceeding with this reprehensible action.”
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