Deadline passes, Palestinians brace for West Bank demolition
KHAN AL-AHMAR, West Bank: Palestinians residents of a West Bank hamlet braced on Monday for an Israeli demolition of their homes as activists arrived to help them resist in case Israeli troops moved in to evict them.
Many spent the night sleeping in a school courtyard or keeping vigil as the Israeli-imposed midnight deadline passed for Khan Al-Ahmar’s residents to evacuate on their own or face forced removal and the demolition of their homes. However, it was unlikely this would happen at least before the end of a Jewish holiday at sundown Monday.
Israel says the encampment of corrugated shacks outside an Israeli settlement was illegally built and in an unsafe location near a major highway. It has offered to resettle residents a few miles away in what it says are improved conditions — with connections to water, electricity and sewage treatment they currently lack. But critics say it’s impossible for Palestinians to get building permits and the demolition plan is against the residents’ will and meant to make room for the expansion of an Israeli settlement.
Israel’s Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against the plan, paving the way for Khan Al-Ahmar’s potential demolition, should the government proceed with its plans.
The encampment has become a rallying cry for Palestinians and Israel has come under heavy criticism, with major European countries urging it to refrain from demolition and removal of Khan Al-Ahmar’s 180 or so residents.
Much of the high-level European engagement derives from concerns that such demolitions could threaten the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state, at a time of already fading hopes for a two-state solution.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to arrive in Israel later this week for an unrelated visit, which may spark a further delay in Israeli action.
Some 200 activists were camped out at the location as the Oct. 1 deadline passed, giving the residents training for that they call non-violent resistance. “We trained them how to quickly move into the shacks, in groups, and make the soldiers’ mission as difficult as they can,” said Monzer Amereh, a leading activist who has been there for weeks. “We are going to sit inside the shacks and will not leave and let them take us out by force.”
Activists said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has been supporting the community and providing them with legal and financial assistance. Residents have recently planted more trees and set up new shacks in a show of defiance.
“We will not leave, we will sit in the wild until they leave, and we will rebuild it again,” said Eid Khamis, the community’s leader. “This is our land, not their land and we live here and die here.”
Israel says the case is a simple matter of law and order. Officials note that Israel has also evicted Jewish settlers who have squatted illegally. But settlers generally have a much easier time receiving building permits, and the government often retroactively legalizes unauthorized outposts, looks the other way or offers compensation to uprooted settlers.
For the Palestinians, it is seen as part of a creeping annexation of territory they seek for a future state.
The village is in the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C, which remains under exclusive Israeli control and is home to dozens of Israeli settlements. Israel places severe restrictions on Palestinian development there and home demolitions are not unusual.
As part of interim peace deals in the 1990s, the West Bank was carved up into autonomous and semi-autonomous Palestinian areas, known as Areas A and B, and Area C, which is home to some 400,000 Israeli settlers.
The Palestinians claim all the West Bank for their future state and say that Area C, home also to an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Palestinians, is crucial to its economic development.