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Israeli authorities move to demolish entire Bedouin community

Feb. 19, 2017 11:19 A.M. (Updated: March 1, 2017 3:18 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces raided the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank northeast of Jerusalem on Sunday morning to deliver demolition orders to classrooms for the village's primary school, while 40 homes in the community were also reportedly delivered demolition orders.

Residents told Israeli daily Haaretz that a
ll 40 houses in the village received demolition orders.

Locals told Ma'an that Israeli forces imposed a military closure on the area before delivering the demolition warrants, as faculty and students of the school were prevented from accessing the building.

Despite the fact that the community, and the school in particular, has been threatened with demolition by the Israeli government for years, locals said the issuing of demolition warrants to every single house was an unprecedented blow.

Haaretz said that Israeli authorities confirmed to them that such a widespread issuance of demolition orders was unprecedented in the area, and that the raid was "a declaration of intention in advance of an attempt to evacuate the entire village."

A spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in Palestinian territory, confirmed that "construction termination warrants" were issued against buildings in Khan al-Ahmar, adding that enforcement of the orders "will take place in coordination with state directives and required legal certifications," without providing further details.

Eid al-Jahalin, a witness, told Palestinian state-run news agency Wafa that Israeli forces raided the area in the early dawn hours and notified residents that they had until Feb. 23 to leave their homes, while another resident told Haaretz he was given five days to evacuate.

Palestinian Minister of Education Sabri Saydam denounced the Israeli raid on the school, describing it as a "systematic and abusive procedure.”

The raid came as the latest in a years-long legal battle waged by the Israeli government and residents of illegal Israeli settlements surrounding Khan al-Ahmar to demolish and relocate the school, which was built in 2009 with the assistance of an Italian NGO, Vento Di Terra, using ecological methods including construction out of used tires.

In August last year, after reports emerged that the Israeli prime minister's office ordered the school to be closed down, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered that the state of Israel provide a formal opinion on the school the following week.

Now, four months later, the status of case remained unclear. A spokesperson for the Israeli Justice Ministry did not immediately respond to Ma’an on a request for comment on the case.

However, according to Haaretz, the Israeli general prosecutor informed the Israeli Supreme Court last week that the government wanted to postpone sessions regarding two cases on the demolition of structures in the Bedouin community, "in light of the attempts to formulate a new policy on the matter."

The Israeli NGO Rabbis For Human Rights, who assists the Khan al-Ahmar community with legal and other support had previously speculated that Israel was avoiding making a decision as a result of the immense international pressure not to demolish the school and its surrounding residencies, which has become one of the most high-profile targets of Israel's demolition campaign against Palestinian structures built without Israeli-issued permits in the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli military control, known as Area C.

Khan al-Ahmar, like other Bedouin communities in the region, is under threat of relocation by Israel for being located in the contentious “E1 corridor” set up by the Israeli government to link annexed East Jerusalem with the mega settlement of Maale Adumim.

Israeli authorities plan to build thousands of homes for Jewish-only settlements in E1, which would effectively divide the West Bank and make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state -- as envisaged by the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- almost impossible.

Rights groups and Bedouin community members have sharply criticized Israel's relocation plans for the Bedouin residing near the illegal Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, claiming that the removal would displace indigenous Palestinians for the sake of expanding Israeli settlements across the occupied West Bank in violation of international law.

Meanwhile, discussion of an Israeli bill seeking to annex Maale Adumim was postponed last month, reportedly until after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump held their first meeting after Trump's inauguration.

The meeting took place Wednesday, when Trump notably said that the US was no longer necessarily committed to the two-state solution as the sole way out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, a growing number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace given the existing political context, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

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