Residents of a Palestinian hamlet in the West Bank have braced themselves for the Israeli demolition of their homes after a deadline passed, but vowed to stay put and defy troops when the bulldozers arrive.
Some 180 people in Khan al-Ahmar, located between the Israeli settlements of Kafr Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim, face being forcibly evicted and transferred after Israel’s Supreme Court twice ruled in favour of demolishing their village.
The order, which was due to be enforced on Monday, includes the village’s school, which provides education for some 170 children from five different Bedouin communities.
The court ruled the Bedouin tribe, who were originally displaced from the Negev Desert in the 1950s, had illegally built their homes in an unsafe location near a main road.
But critics, who have called the decision a war crime, say it is impossible for Palestinians to obtain the building permits in the Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank known as Area C. United Nations officials believe the clutch of corrugated iron shacks is being cleared to make way for the expansion of nearby Israeli settlements, illegal under international law.
Despite desperate appeals by Khan al-Ahmar’s residents, the Israeli authorities gave them until 1 October to destroy their own homes and leave. On Monday, as the deadline passed, residents said women and children were scared about the expected attack but were determined to stay put.
“Ordering us to destroy our own homes is like telling us to bury ourselves with our own hands,” said Abu Khamas, 52 a father-of-seven in a protest tent within the village where dozens of activists were also waiting for the bulldozers.
“We are not soldiers, we don’t have tanks, we can’t stop them but we will resist and sleep under the sky if needs be. The woman and children are very scared.”
The Bedouin leader said the Israelis planned to destroy the village and more than a dozen others like it to drive a wedge into the West Bank and connect major Israeli settlements such as nearby Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem.
“If they take all the Bedouin villages they will be able to start building settlements that will cut the West Bank in two again separating the people from Bethlehem from those in Ramallah and those in Jerusalem,” he said.
“In short, if you lose Khan al-Ahmar you lose Jerusalem because you close the circle around it.”
The plan has come under fire from the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, who issued a joint statement last month saying it could threaten the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state, at a time when the prospects of a two-state solution have never looked so bleak.
German chancellor Angela Merkel is also to arrive in Israel later this week for an unrelated visit, which will pile further pressure on Israel.
The UN has repeatedly called for Israel to stop the demolition plan, denouncing it as a “grave breach of international law”.
According to the UN’s humanitarian affairs office OCHA, Khan al-Ahmar is one of 18 communities located near an area slated for an Israeli settlement reorganisation plan that would create a continuous built-up area, between the Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem.
Israel has defended the decision, saying that the village is built in an unsafe area and should be relocated to a more suitable location. But according to Amnesty International, the two chosen options are beside a former Jerusalem municipal garbage dump, or in the vicinity of a sewage plant close to the city of Jericho.