With the UN General Assembly convened in New York this week, one issue we will watch is the response to Israeli plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, adjacent to Israeli settlements east of Jerusalem, by October 1. Israel has called on the residents to demolish their houses themselves, and its courts have rejected appeals by the village to stop the demolition.
Two days ago in New York, eight European countries warned Israel that the destruction of Khan al-Ahmar would be a violation of UN Security Council resolutions declaring Israeli settlements a flagrant breach of international law. The Labour Party Conference going on now in Liverpool has reportedly also stood up for Khan al-Ahmar. (FYI, here is a Guy Davidi film on the Jahalin Bedouin community).
Four days ago the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Palestine visited Khan al-Ahmar. During that visit, Eid abu Khamis Jahalin, a community leader in Khan al-Ahmar, handed them this letter:
Thank you for visiting us here, this afternoon, in Al Khan Al Ahmar. Your presence and support are deeply appreciated. I also want to thank you for your strong vote in the European Parliament last week. We need this support now more than ever.
At any moment, the only home that I have known for 53 years will be demolished. Israel wants to move us near a sewage plant or a garbage dumpsite. Our only school – which 180 school kids call their safe space – will also be destroyed. Each day, the children ask if their school’s going to be destroyed and ask us what will they do then. I have no answers. Should I tell them that Israel wants us to live in next to a dumpsite or a sewage plant? Should I tell them that primary education is a privilege and not a right? What shall I say? There are no books to prepare a parent or activist to speak to a child about school demolitions.
We are rarely asked what we want, so afford me the luxury to tell you: We want to stay where we are or go back to our own lands in the Naqab Desert, which our family was forced out of by Israel in 1952.
We love living in desert and we don’t want to give up our Bedouin culture or our way of life, to have to go and live in a town – next to the garbage dump or a sewage plant.
We’re not stupid or backwards and do not need anyone deciding what is “best” for us. We know exactly what we want: We want town planning in the hands of the Palestinian Authority, and not in the hands of the Israeli military. We want our human rights respected. We want to live in dignity. We want to choose for ourselves. In short, we want our freedom.
If Israel demolishes our community and school, Israel will transfer into relocation sites all Bedouin communities from other tribes across the West Bank. This will mean the end to Palestinian independence, freedom and the two-state solution for which many of you have worked hard.
I believe that international pressure over the last years is the only reason why my community has so far survived the demolition threats. But after the decision of the High Court earlier this month, the Israeli government is determined to remove our community, with [Defense Minister Avigdor] Lieberman proudly tweeting about it. I am sure that Israel will erase my community unless the world spells out really soon what Israel stands to lose if it insists in proceeding with the demolition. Words alone don’t scare them now.
I know that what Israel plans to do amounts to a war crime. Several legal scholars, human rights groups – including Israeli ones – have reached the same conclusion. The real question is whether Israel will pay a price.
I have been displaced several times in my life [within the lands formerly possessed by Khan al Ahmar] and have waited 50 years to see justice. I continue to wait.
I just hope my school age daughters, Nisreen and Iman, will be afforded the chance to pursue and fulfill their dreams, and live in peace.
Living under the threat of demolition is no way for any person – old or young – to live. We often feel alone but your support and that of others sends a message to Palestinians that we are not alone. Together, we shall succeed.