Across Palestine the Israeli policies work, below the radar of world attention, to move the native populations off of their land and fill it with Jewish immigrants. One microcosm of this process is in the village of Khan Al Ahmar, located between Jerusalem and Jericho, where we have gone a number of times.
A Road That Divides
July 4th we joined demonstrations, protests, and arrests as the occupying military started building a road next to Khan Al Ahmar. The road is an important tool of control of the land and removal of the traditional population in the West Bank. The illegal Jewish settlements Kfar Adumim and Mishor Adumim, which are really small cities with industrial parks, shopping centers, schools, etc, want to expand but the village of Khan Al Ahmar is in their way. The planned road cuts diagonally from the existing 4 lane highway along the very edge of the village up to an outpost road on the way to the illegal Kfar Adumim settlement. This road will be a barrier keeping Khan Al Ahmar herders away from thousands of acres of their traditional grazing land. It will leave the community penned into a small pie shaped piece of land between the new road and Route 1. It will simply make it impossible for them to carry on their herding lie style. And their whole culture is built on thousands of years of herding.
Eliminating the residents of Khan Al Ahmar from this large piece of land gives the developers from the illegal settlements unencumbered access to developing that land. Of course the goal is not just that large piece of land; the goal is obliteration of the village. Clearly the Israeli intent is to make life in Khan Al Ahmar so untenable that the residents will be ready to just leave their traditional lands. Since the occupying Israeli government has passed the orders to forcefully remove the residents and eliminate the Village, they could just back up trucks and forcibly remove the residents. But they are afraid of the bad PR associated with public images of soldiers herding citizens onto trucks, reminiscent of what happened in Nazi Germany. Whether they do it gradually or all at once the outcome is the same - the illegal moving of an occupied population and the illegal importation of another population into an occupied territory.
Israel Targets a Local School Built of Recycled Materials
Why would anyone, let alone a government, want to demolish a school? Especially an elementary school serving several villages that have no other available education. This school was built only after these Bedouin communities requested and were denied that the Israeli school buses which went by their villages stop and pick up their children too. At first the school was just a couple of rooms, but as the children advanced in grades more class rooms and teachers were needed until now the school is more that 14 rooms. Since building materials were scarce they built much of the school with recycled materials like stacking old car tires filled with concrete. Despite its humble beginnings this school has been providing education to Bedouin children of several villages, something the occupying Israeli government has refused to provide. Making education available locally is especially critical for the girls. Incongruous as it may be the Israeli authorities are spending tens of thousands of dollars just to be sure this little school is demolished. For them it is not just a school, it is a symbol of the determination and resistance of the Palestinian people to stay on their traditional land. The occupying Israel hopes that demolishing the school will break the village's will to resist. But it is doing the opposite - the village is organizing materials and labor to rebuild right away if the school is demolished. Our team has spent nights and days in the school to offer a protective international presence which the community leaders see as important for delaying demolition and maybe even saving this school.
Education the Victim of Politics
The Khan Al Ahmar elementary school is caught up in the internal politics of the two illegal settlements Kfar Adumim and Mishor Adumim which are built on traditional Bedouin lands. In the master plans for the illegal settlements they plan to get rid of the traditional Bedouin villages there. One of the settlement politicians is fueling his political base by saying he will see that the school is demolished as a symbol for forcefully removing the villages. But some others living in the illegal settlements are having second thoughts. For example one settler realized that a leader in the Khan Al Ahmar village is the man who built his house, and the settler is asking “How can I demolish the house of the man who built mine?”
There is also a group of settlers who apparently don't mind the villagers being forcefully removed but feel the planned place of relocation is intolerable for three reasons. 1) The plan calls for relocating Khan Al Ahmar from their traditional herding grounds and putting them on little plots of land where herding is out of the question. Those little plots are in a sliver of land along a 4 lane highway and hemmed in on the other side by an existing Bedouin community. 2) The existing community says the relocation plan takes their land, land they need for subsistence, and plunks the Khan Al Ahmar residents in it. 3)The relocation place is directly down hill from a major industrial dump and that studies have shown that people already living there have very high rates of birth defects.
It seems the future of Khan Al Ahmar may depend on the internal politics of illegal settlements which are built on land stolen from Khan Al Ahmar.
Why would a government care about the location of a tiny community?
The village of Khan Al Ahmar is on the “Israeli side” of the planned apartheid wall. The purpose of the wall is to separate the Jewish population from the local population and letting a Bedouin village stay on the “Israeli side” defeats this. Khan Al Ahmar is caught in this position because the wall at this point will be deep inside the West Bank. The wall at this point will be about 13 kilometers from the internationally recognized green line. In fact the wall will be about half way across the entire West Bank.
In addition Khan Al Ahmar is one of the Bedouin villages in the way of expansion of the illegal settlements Kfar Adumim and Mishor Adumim (which are built on the traditional lands of Khan Al Ahmar). At the same time that Khan Al Ahmar residents live under demolition orders, contracts have been signed to build a new 96 unit expansion of Kfar Adumim on the traditional grazing lands of Khan Al Ahmar.
Removal of the little village fits in with another aspect of the Israeli expansion. The E1 plan calls for the expansion of illegal settlements in a continuous band from Jerusalem to Jericho dividing the West Bank into two separate pieces. With an apartheid wall to the north of this band and another apartheid wall to the south there will be no connection between the northern and the southern parts of the West Bank. Many people describe this as creating two new Gaza like open air prisons.