After nearly two months on high alert, the fear of imminent demolition permanently lingering in the air, the residents of Khan al-Ahmar and the activists supporting them took a collective, albeit temporary, sigh of relief last week.
When news spread that the Israeli government was postponing the demolition of the village until further notice, the Bedouins of Khan al-Ahmar, along with hundreds of activists and Palestinian government officials rejoiced.
Men carried each other on their shoulders and chanted national slogans in celebration, and activists hailed the development as a win for grassroots organizing.
“After 40, 50 days of constant stress, there is a sense of relief,” Ma’roud al-Refai, the spokesperson for Walid Assaf, the Head of the National Committee to Resist the Wall and Settlements, told Mondoweiss.
“The village was an extremely stressful environment, especially for the women and children. Now there is a slight feeling of calm, but the people do not trust the [Israeli] occupation, and will not feel completely relaxed until there is an official reversal of the demolition order,” he said.
In the days since Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s security cabinet approved the postponement, the hundreds of journalists and activists who had been camping for weeks in the village have slowly emptied out of Khan al-Ahmar.
Now, as the euphoria of the postponement wears off, the residents of Khan al-Ahmar are back trying to resume their daily lives as normal until the next decision comes.
Struggling to stay afloat
Khan al-Ahmar is home to some 200 Palestinian Bedouins from the Jahalin tribe, who maintain a semi-nomadic shepherding lifestyle. Dozens of the men in the village work construction jobs inside Israel to support their families.
Over the past few months, many men have lost their jobs as a result of not showing up to work, further worsening the already fragile economic situation in the village.
“Every day the men would get up to go to work but then we would get news that maybe they would destroy the village that day,” Ahmad Ibrahim Abu Dahoud, 40, a resident of the village who worked in construction in Israel told Mondoweiss.
“When you see the soldiers coming and waiting around the village, how can you leave your wife and children to go to work knowing maybe something will happen?” he asked. “For this reason many of the men did not go to work and then they were fired from their jobs.”
Abu Dahoud, a father of seven, hasn’t had a steady job in over a year, ever since his Israeli work permit was revoked in July 2017.
“During confrontations with the soldiers I was arrested along with six other men from the village,” he said. “When they released us, they revoked our work permits.”
Abu Dahoud added that several other men have been denied multiple times by Israeli authorities when attempting to renew their expired permits.
“The Israelis had been threatening us for years before, saying if we didn’t leave our homes they would revoke all our permits,” he said, “but now they are actually doing it, and it is affecting us a lot.”
“We are being punished because we refuse to let them kick us out of our homes.”
Abu Dahoud told Mondoweiss that for the past few months, the Palestinian Authority has been paying a 1,000 shekel ($269) monthly stipend to each family in the village in an effort to help alleviate the financial strain on families.
“We appreciate the money, but we are a family of nine. Many of the families in the village are at least 10 people per family. This money isn’t enough to put food on the table,” he said.
“This stipend from the PA is not a steady income. Now with the postponement and people’s attention elsewhere, we are not sure if we will even get the money next month,” he said.
“We are not just struggling against being displaced, we are struggling to survive every day.”
‘Why should we go to school?’
On top of worrying about how he is going to put food on the table, Abu Dahoud says one of his main concerns is trying to keep his kids focused on their studies.
“The past two months have most affected the children in the village,” he said, noting that the village school has been serving as one of the main campsites in the village for activists and journalists.
“The kids have been distracted by the constant crowds of foreigners and journalists spending day and night in the village since September, and it has taken a toll on their schoolwork,” he said.
“My kids wake up in the morning and they don’t want to go to school and when they come home they don’t want to study,” he told Mondoweiss. “They tell me and my wife ‘why should we go to school? We will study tonight and tomorrow they will destroy our school, so what is the point?’”
Ahlam Dahalka, 53, the principal of the school, echoed similar sentiments to Mondoweiss, saying that since the High Court gave the final greenlight to demolish the village in September, she has noticed a significant change in the behavior of the children.
“The children are always scared and distracted, especially when there are confrontations with the soldiers,” she said. “They don’t want to be in the classroom, they want to go outside and see what’s going on.”
“We try to calm them down, but they have become noticeably more aggressive and stubborn since the demolition has become more imminent,” she said.
“Now after the postponement, they are a little more calm than they have been in the past two months, but things are still not back to normal.”
Lasting impact on girls
The school in Khan al-Ahmar, which was built in 2009, serves more than 150 children between the ages of six and fifteen from the village and surrounding Bedouin communities.
Before the Khan al-Ahmar school — which is made of mud and rubber tires — was opened, children from the village had to travel far distances to go to school in other communities.
“Prior to 2009, only boys would go to school because families did not agree to let their daughters travel far away from home,” Dahalka told Mondoweiss.
“There were girls that were 17,18 years old and could not read or write properly. But that all changed when the school was built in the village.”
With the school close by, families began to break with decades of customs and traditions in the community and started sending their girls to school.
“It has not only changed the lives of the girls but the entire community,” she said.
Abu Dahoud, whose girls go to the village school, says he has seen a shift in the mindset of the community since the school was built.
“Now the girls have started to study and the minds of the people have started changing about educating girls, and some are even thinking about letting their girls go to university,” he said, adding that the girls in the village typically bring home higher averages than the boys.
“But if the school is demolished, I think things will go back to how they were before, unfortunately,” he said.
Dahalka expressed similar fears. “If they demolish the school the girls will stop studying,” she said.
“Many of the girls have already expressed fears that their families will not let them go to Jericho to study if the school is destroyed, and they will have to stay at home and take care of livestock while the boys go to school.”
While the residents of Khan al-Ahmar attempt to restore a sense of normalcy to their village, daily life is still very much defined by the looming threat of demolition.
Israeli news website Haaretz reported on Tuesday that deliberations regarding demolition plans were at a standstill, as Israel is refusing to negotiate with the villager’s lawyer, Tawfiq Jabareen, because he is employed by the PA.
Despite no known developments in negotiations between the villagers and the Israeli government, activists are staying vigilant, with many saying they don’t trust the Israeli government on its word that the demolition will not happen any time soon.
Though their numbers have significantly dwindled since the postponement was announced, a steady stream of activists have continued to filter in and out of the village, and are now preparing for spending many cold winter nights in Khan al-Ahmar.
“We have set up new waterproof tents in the village for activists and have brought in new mattresses and heaters,” al-Refai told Mondoweiss.
“We believe that the presence of international activists, who have come in the thousands to Khan al-Ahmar over the past few months, is crucial to fighting the demolition of the village,” he said.
“I do believe that the work of activists and the pressure they put on the international community, specifically European countries, played a role in delaying the demolition,” he said, adding that activists are remaining cautiously optimistic.
“We can be happy, but we need to be careful about how we celebrate because there is still a real danger of demolition,” he said.
“Our goal is to keep working against this demolition order until the Israelis reverse their decision, and say that Khan al-Ahmar will not be destroyed — not now, not in the future.”