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West Bank: Israel's High Court postpones hearing on demolition of Khan al-Ahmar

Israeli government requests six month delay, citing the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the fragile coalition government, and the volatile security situation in the West Bank
Palestinian Bedouin men in the village of Khan al-Ahmar, which is threatened with demolition, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, 29 November 2020 (AFP)

Israel's High Court of Justice postponed a hearing on the demolition of the Palestinian village Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, accepting a request from the Israeli government.

The hearing of a petition to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, filed by the Israeli settler group Regavim, was scheduled for 30 September, but the Israeli government asked the court to postpone it for six months, citing the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the fragility of the newly-formed coalition government and the tense security situation in the West Bank.

The new date for the hearing is now 6 March 2022.

In its decision on Wednesday, the Israeli court wrote that the government's attitude towards the Khan al-Ahmar demolition was one of "inaction and feet-dragging".

Israel planning to relocate Khan al-Ahmar residents to new area in West Bank
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Khan al-Ahmar, which has been demolished and rebuilt several times in recent years, is in the West Bank, near the illegal Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, and close to Route 1, a highway that connects East Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley.

“The state is not consistent in its arguments and does not follow through with its statements,” the court added. “There is no doubt the day nears when we can no longer come to terms with the petition’s inconclusiveness… It cannot be stretched to infinity.”

A statement from Friends of the Jahalin, an NGO representing the tribe that populates Khan al-Ahmar, wrote on Wednesday, "it is a pity that the court granted another extension and did not outright reject the petition, which violates the values of equality".

"It is time to find a fair and agreed-upon solution. A solution for the benefit of the Bedouin, and no less for the benefit of Israeli society," it added.

In September 2018, Israel's Supreme Court approved the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, despite calls from European countries, human rights organisations, and activists for Israel to halt the process.

In March this year, Israeli officials said they were planning to remove Palestinians from the village and relocate them a few hundred metres away to a location between occupied Jerusalem and Jericho in the West Bank.

But the demolition has for years been continually delayed.

The E1 plan

The residents of Khan al-Ahmar are from the Jahalin tribe, a Bedouin group that was expelled from the Naqab desert - also referred to as the Negev - during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The Jahalin settled on the eastern slopes of Jerusalem. They have long refused to be relocated and opposed Israeli demolition and eviction orders.

The Khan al-Ahmar community comprises some 35 families, whose makeshift homes and schools, mostly made of corrugated metal and wood, were demolished by the Israeli army several times before 2018.

Israel intends to demolish Khan al-Ahmar as part of the so-called E1 plan, which involves building hundreds of housing units to link the settlements of Kfar Adumim and Maale Adumim with East Jerusalem in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.

If fully implemented, critics say the E1 plan would effectively split the West Bank in half, isolate East Jerusalem from Palestinian communities in the West Bank and force Palestinians to make even lengthier detours to travel from one place to another, while illegal settlements would be able to expand.

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