As the long-fought battle to save the village of Khan al-Ahmar from demolition continues, another fight is taking place on the sidelines — one that could have life changing effects on the fate of the Bedouins in Khan al-Ahmar, and the future of the occupied West Bank.
Two Ramallah-area Palestinian villages — Deir Dibwan and Anata — have filed a case in the Israeli High Court, asking Israeli authorities to demolish illegal structures in the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim — the same settlement which has ceaselessly pushed for the state’s decision to demolish Khan al-Ahmar.
The villagers are arguing for the demolition of some 120 homes and structures and four outposts in Kfar Adumim which were built without permits from Israeli authorities and lie outside of the planned borders of the settlement.
The structures in question were built on privately owned land belonging to residents of Deir Dibwan and Anata.
The villages’ attorney Tawfiq Jabareen, who has also filed petitions on behalf of Khan al-Ahmar, told Mondoweiss that he decided to file the case for Deir Dibwan and Anata while he was working on a petition for Khan al-Ahmar.
“When I took the case of Khan al-Ahmar and checked all the lands and the constructions around the village, I was shocked to found out that the Jewish settlement [Kfar Adumim] had built a lot of buildings illegally,” he said.
Jabareen emphasized that while all Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law, what made this case exceptional and possible, was that the buildings in question were also built in violation of Israeli domestic law.
“Under domestic law, settlers can build a house if you have a permit and an outlined plan,” he said. “But all of these buildings were built without permits and outside the border for the settlements, making it illegal under Israeli law.”
“Additionally, part of them were built on privately owned Palestinian land, which means they are trespassers, and are not allowed to be on this land, even according to Israel. For me, this is unacceptable,” Jabareen told Mondoweiss.
Though nearly half of the structures in question have been retroactively legalized, Jabareen has fervently pursued the case.
In his letter to the High Court, which was obtained by Mondoweiss, Jabareen mentions the Israeli government’s “selective enforcement policy” when considering settlers versus Palestinians.
He stresses the fact that many of the homes in Kfar Adumim, despite being built illegally, were retroactively legalized, while the entire village of Khan al-Ahmar, which existed long before the settlements, is under threat of total demolition because the state has deemed it as illegal.
“The Israelis are always expanding the settlements without permits and without any legal grounds, and at the same time they are trying to demolish Palestinian communities,” Jabareen said.
Jabareen told Mondoweiss that he believes the case he’s filed on behalf of Deir Dibwan and Anata is not only a crucial part in the fight to save Khan al-Ahmar, but also serves an important purpose on its own.
“The reason for why I am filing this case now at this moment, is Khan al-Ahmar,” he said, “but if I knew about this case before, I would have still filed it without any relation to Khan al-Ahmar.”
“I told myself I have to do it, I have to file this case now in order to show the double standard of the government and of the courts,” Jabareen said.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter for the Israelis if what they do is illegal under the domestic law,” he told Mondoweiss, “the proof of this is in the fact that the settlers are building as they want and no one is stopping them. It is an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from Area C.”
Newfound motivation to fight
On the surface, the village of Deir Dibwan, which lies 27 km north of Khan al-Ahmar, seems like one of the last places that would be concerned with land battles with settlers.
Famous in Palestine for its large villas and extravagant homes, the majority of Deir Dibwan’s residents — around 12,000 out of 18,000 — live in the US full time, only coming back to the village during the summers.
Mansour F. Mansour, Deir Dibwan’s newly elected mayor, was one of those residents up until he was elected to his current post, and decided to move back to Palestine full time.
It was not long after he started his new job, when Mansour was approached by Jabareen, shortly after the latter had learned that some of the homes in Kfar Adumim were built on land belonging to Deir Dibwan, which is one of the largest villages in Palestine in terms of land area.
“I was immediately inspired to be a part of this case,” Mansour told Mondoweiss, as he sat in his office in the middle of the town.
“We first contacted the villagers who the land belonged to,” he said, pointing to Nayef Menwer, one of the landowners, “and when they agreed, we gave all the appropriate papers to Mr. Jabareen so he could get started.”
With around 70% of Deir Dibwan’s land (around 60,000 dunums) in Area C, Mansour expressed that any chance to get some of that land back to the village’s residents, or at least get the settlers off the land, would be considered a huge win.
“Our forefathers used to plant wheat and potatoes, and graze their livestock on all of this beautiful land, and now we, the village, only have control of around 5,000-6,000 dunums of it,” Mansour said.
Menwer’s land, specifically the area being used by Kfar Adumim, was seized from his family in the 1970’s by Israel to be used as a military area.
“Eventually, the military area turned into settlements, and they stole the land from us,” Menwer, an older man in his 70s and full time resident of the village, told Mondoweiss, as he recounted stories of his ancestors and the crops they used to harvest.
“There is nothing left for us here, all the agricultural land is lost,” he said, adding that he didn’t see much hope in the case being filed by Jabareen, but that “there was no harm in trying.”
While Menwer sat in the Mayor’s office, disillusioned by Israel’s legal system and the international community’s failure to protect Palestinian land, Mansour was visibly enlivened, ready to fight for Menwer and the other landowners in court.
“There has always been a feeling that, you know, you can’t do anything against Israel or against the settlers,” Mansour said, as he spoke of a previous feeling of hopelessness and complacency in the village.
“But this time, we are going to try to fight,” he said, “it is our land, and we have to protect it.”
Mansour, like Jabareen, sees the case of Deir Dibwan as a chance to save Khan al-Ahmar, and prevent Israel’s settlement enterprise from effectively cutting the West Bank in half if it were to replace Khan al-Ahmar with a settlement bloc.
“Everyone is connected, and our struggles are interconnected. If we save this land, Nayef’s land, maybe we can play a role in saving Khan al-Ahmar, and saving a part of Palestine,” he said.
“Even if it is just some small land in some people’s eyes, this is a national issue,” Mansour said, a tone of exhilaration rising in his voice, “Israel is trying to separate us all, but we have to remain strong and united.”
“We want to change the attitude of the people here, not just in Deir Dibwan, but everywhere, that we have a right to stand up against these injustices, and that our actions could impact not just our lives, but all of Palestine in the future.”