Khan al-Ahmar, occupied West Bank — Scenes of destruction and despair spread over the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar on Wednesday, as armed Israeli forces arrived at the village’s entrance with bulldozers.
The nightmare that the village’s 200 residents had feared for over 10 years had finally become a reality: Israel was beginning its long-anticipated demolition of the village.
The feeling of anguish was palpable among the hundreds of villagers and Palestinian activists, who had protested with blood, sweat, and tears over the past days, months, and years against the demolition of the village.
“We have dreaded this day for years,” Mahmoud Abu Dawoud, 51, a member of the local village council told Mondoweiss, as he sat on a hilltop under the shade of a tree, surrounded by fellow villagers and activists, overlooking Israeli bulldozers levelling land below. The machines were excavating a roadway for jeeps and bulldozers when they eventually do come to destroy the village.
“We have been living on this land since 1951, after Israel kicked us out of our lands in the Naqab (Negev) desert in 1948,” Abu Dawoud said, his hands gesturing to the surrounding mountains, his eyes fixated on the dozens of armed Israeli soldiers.
“Our grandfathers fled here, we were born here, and our children have grown up here. This is our land, it is a part of all of us. We, and the generations to come, are all affected by this inhumane decision,” he said.
“Everyone in the international community knows that the forcible transfer of people is a war crime. People have known about Khan al-Ahmar, and the threats against us for years. So why are they just standing by, waiting until the crime is finished, to care and cry for us?”
A chorus of condemnations
In the weeks leading up to Wednesday, several international officials and organizations visited Khan al-Ahmar, while countless others released statements both condemning Israel’s actions, and urging the state to halt its policy in the village.
In the latest of months worth of statements of its kind, the European Union condemned Israel on Thursday, saying its actions 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.
Nikolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said on Twitter that the proposed demolition was contrary to international law and urged Israel to stop.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, British officials have been urging their Israeli counterparts to pressure the government to stop the demolition, adding that both Ireland and France also echoed similar sentiments in statements from their foreign ministries.
Haaretz quoted British Minister of State for the Middle East Alistair Burt as saying on Wednesday that officials from the British embassy in Tel Aviv and from the consulate general in Jerusalem “visited Khan al-Ahmar to express our concern and demonstrate the international community’s support for that community.”
Abu Dawoud told Mondoweiss that when the British officials arrived by car to the village, they were turned back by Israeli police and forced to return to the village on foot — a restriction that was enforced against several activists and journalists throughout the day.
“This occupation does not care about any Palestinian or international leaders, Ban-Ki moon came here, EU officials have come here, British officials have come here. But Israel does not care about any political opinions or statements,” he said, a tone of frustration mounting in his voice.
“For us, we welcome anyone who comes here to support us, from ordinary citizens to officials. But we need more than just words at this point, we need action,” he said.
Abu Dawoud’s sentiments were echoed by other residents and activists present at the mounting protests against the demolition.
Nasra Qablani, who had traveled from Ramallah to take part in demonstrations and help villagers resist the demolition, told Mondoweiss that her faith in the international community was dwindling, and that it was only through grassroots resistance that the fate of Khan al-Ahmar could remain hopeful.
“The Israelis have had a plan for this place for years, and the international community has known that all along,” Qiblani said, standing in front of dozens of armed Israeli soldiers. “Today, Israel is finally seeing that plan through.”
“The world needs to wake up. We are standing here, as Palestinians, asking the world to support us with more than just words and statements,” Qiblani said, as an Israeli bulldozer continued levelling land in the background.
“Yesterday they [Israel] talked about achieving peace with the ‘Deal of the Century’, and today they came to destroy Khan al-Ahmar. This is the reality of the occupation.”
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement Wednesday that “words of warning to Israel are not enough. If there is no serious intervention from the international community towards the Israeli government and its belligerent military occupation, other villages will be next, and more Palestinian men, women and children will be displaced for another 70 years to come.”
Abu Dawoud and other locals from Khan al-Ahmar voice similar bleak predictions for the future. For many, Khan al-Ahmar is more than just their home — it acts as the gatekeeper of all the other Bedouin villages across occupied Palestine.
“The Israeli plans for Khan al-Ahmar are just beginning,” Abu Dawoud told Mondoweiss. “They will not stop until all the Bedouin villages are destroyed and until they replace us with Jewish settlers, as if we were never here, as if we never existed.”
Despair and Defiance
With every hour that passes, the Israeli state-sponsored demolition of Khan al-Ahmar grows closer. It is a reality that Khan al-Ahmar’s villagers and Palestinian solidarity activists say they are ready to face head on.
Despite the assaults and arrest of villagers that took place on Wednesday, and reports that Israeli authorities were simultaneously working on the planned relocation site near Jabal West in East Jerusalem, every villager and activist that we spoke to all mentioned one thing: “sumud,” or steadfastness.
Ibrahim Khamees, a member of the Khan al-Ahmar village council, spoke to Mondoweiss as he looked over the soldiers and bulldozers below.
“If or when the Israelis destroy the village, we will never go to Abu Dis,” he said, referring to the Jabal West site, which is located on the edge of the Abu Dis garbage dump.
“If they kick us out, we will come back on foot, but we will never leave. We will remain steadfast in our resistance,” he vowed.
Yusuf Abu Dawoud told Mondoweiss that he wanted to send a message to the world, that the people of Khan al-Ahmar wanted to be seen for who they are: “civilians, living in peace.”
“We are here, and we will remain here, steadfast, protecting our homes, where we were born and raised,” he said. “We will not leave this area.”
Famed Palestinian activist Munther Amira, who has been camping with other activists in the village, posted a statement on Facebook saying, “Khan al-Ahmar is a story of steadfastness, challenge, and triumph.”
Speaking on behalf of the people of Khan al-Ahmar, Khamees said he had a message for the world.
“For all those who talk about democracy and freedom and living in peace, they should work harder to protect our rights to all of these things. We are living here happily, with our children and our livestock, all we want is to live in peace.”