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Khan al-Ahmar: Protests and condemnation as Israel moves to demolish Bedouin village

UN and EU say demolition would be another violation of international law as security forces drag away residents and protesters
Israeli police grapple with Palestinians resisting the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar on Wednesday (Reuters)

Israel faced mounting international condemnation on Thursday as its security forces continued preparations to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank.

Residents and activists climbed onto bulldozers on Wednesday and waved Palestinian flags in a bid to stop the demolition.

Videos and photos showed Israeli security forces dragging protesters and residents away.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the office of Nikolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that the proposed demolition was contrary to international law and urged Israel to stop.

The European Union also condemned Israel's actions in a statement on Thursday. 

It said Israel's actions and its plans to build more illegal settlements in the same area undermined hopes for a two-state solution and a viable peace.

"In line with our long-standing position on Israel’s settlement policy, illegal under international law, and actions taken in that context, such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions and confiscations of homes, the EU expects the Israeli authorities to reverse these decisions and fully meet its obligations as an occupying power under International Humanitarian Law," the statement said.

British and French officials joined the EU's condemnations. 

The French foreign ministry on Thursday said it had "deep concerns" over the developing situation in Khan al-Ahmar, while British MPs held an emergency session on the imminent demolitions on Wednesday. 

PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi condemned the imminent plans by the Israeli army to raze Khan al-Ahmar and urged the international community to act. 

"The protection of Palestinian families and the forcible transfer of our indigenous population to a state of homelessness and despair is completely unacceptable," said Ashrawi. 

"We call on the Israeli 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 where 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."

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 35 people wounded, with four taken to the hospital.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem said nine people were arrested - five from the village and four others, including the group's head of field research.

JCB, CAT, and Liugong branded construction equipment assembled to demolish the village (Reuters)
Police reported two arrests and said stones were thrown at officers.

The incident came after activists said the Israeli military had issued a warrant to the 173 residents of Khan al-Ahmar on Tuesday, granting it authorisation to seize access roads to the village.

Heavy equipment was seen in the area on Wednesday, prompting speculation a road was being prepared to facilitate the village's evacuation and demolition.

Images showed bulldozers and other heavy construction equipment parked just outside the village.

"Today they are proceeding with infrastructure work to facilitate the demolition and forcible transfer of residents," Amit Gilutz, spokesman for B'Tselem, told AFP.

Israel intends to demolish the village as part of the so-called E1 plan, which involves building hundreds of settlement units to link the settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim with East Jerusalem in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.

Israeli authorities say the village and its school were built illegally, and in May the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against its demolition.

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Residents say they had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as the documents are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

They also point out that they are only living on the land because their families were forced to leave their homelands in 1948 during the Palestinian "Nakba", or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced.

Israeli authorities say they have offered villagers an alternative site, but the residents of Khan al-Ahmar point out that it is next to a rubbish dump.

Palestinians in Khan al-Ahmar vowed to never abandon their land.

"We have been living here since 1951. My grandfather, my father and me," Faisal Abu Dawoud, a 43-year-old resident told Middle East Eye. "It is impossible for us to leave this place. Even if they arrest all of us and force us out, we will return."

Israeli police manhandle Bedouin villagers at Khan al-Ahmar (Reuters)
Khan al-Ahmar is mainly composed of makeshift tin and wood structures, as is traditionally the case with Bedouin villages.

Alistair Burt, Britain's Middle East minister, visited it in May and called on the Israeli government to show restraint.

Burt told parliament on Wednesday that officials from the British embassy in Tel Aviv and the British consulate in Jerusalem visited Khan al-Ahmar earlier in the day to "express our concern and demonstrate the international community’s support for that community".

"Once there, they did indeed observe a bulldozer, which began levelling the ground. While we have not yet witnessed any demolition of structures, it would appear that demolition is imminent," Burt said.

"We deeply regret this turn of events. The United Nations has said that this would not only constitute forcible transfer, but pave the way for settlement building in E1."

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Such an action would be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention, and therefore a war crime.

France has also slammed Israel's plans for the Palestinian community.

"The villages are also 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 international charity Save the Children also condemned the proposed demolition, which would include the destruction of a school where more than 170 children are taught.

It said that 44 schools were at risk of demolition across the West Bank, threatening the right to learn for thousands of Palestinian children.

"The impact these demolitions have on the wellbeing of children, and their ability to learn and feel safe, cannot be understated and must not be accepted,” said Jennifer Moorehead, Save the Children’s country director for the occupied Palestinian territory.

“This community has already suffered so much and their only hope now is to see the highest level political intervention from the international community.”

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