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May 10, 2018 11:39 am

The Case of the Illegal Bedouin Village of Khan al-Ahmar

avatar by Naomi Linder Kahn

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The internationally-funded school in Khan al-Ahmar. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. – Khan al-Ahmar is an embattled Bedouin village that has been in the news — and in the Israeli courts — for more than a decade. The history of Khan al-Ahmar is an eye-opening lesson in Middle Eastern politics. This seemingly unimposing settlement may well be the quintessential example of one of the major problems facing Israel today.

Khan al-Ahmar was built on land that belongs to the State of Israel. It is situated in an area under full Israeli administrative and security authority according to both the Oslo Accords and international law. In fact, it sits on land that is part of Kfar Adumim, in the heart of an area that is strategically critical to Israel’s security.

The residents of Khan al-Ahmar are one branch of the large Jahalin Bedouin tribe. Until fairly recently, they were nomadic shepherds who lived, with the rest of the tribe, near Arad, and moved their herds and tents around southern Israel with the changing seasons. At some point, a feud broke out between different branches of the tribe; in the 1970s, the Jahalin were forced out of the Arad area and traveled northward. That’s how they ended up where they are today.

Aerial photos paint a clear picture of the Jahalin’s history ever since: They arrived in the Adumim region in the mid-1970s, most probably after the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Like almost all other Bedouin in Israel and the Middle East, the Jahalin began to abandon their nomadic lifestyle in favor of semi-permanent or permanent settlements; shepherding became more of a hobby to preserve their folklore, but they, like Bedouin throughout Israel and the Middle East, began to take up other lines of work.

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The problem is that this branch of the tribe began to put up illegal structures and tap into municipal water and electricity lines in a highly sensitive, strategically critical area adjacent to a major highway, where they endanger their own lives, as well as those of motorists.

The encampment that began to take shape in the 1970s overlooks Route 1, the main artery connecting Jerusalem, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Dead Sea beyond. From their very first day on the site, the Jahalin were well-aware that the land they had squatted on was within the municipal boundaries of Kfar Adumim. The also knew that this location was not a long-term solution for their housing needs.

What happened next is a classic case of Palestinian manipulation and international meddling.

In 1992, Salim Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, published his master plan for the creation of a Palestinian state. The basis of “The Fayyad Plan” was, and remains, the creation of a de facto state without the need for negotiation with Israel, through the creation of facts on the ground in areas under full Israeli administrative and security administration. One of the most strategically important areas on which the Fayyad Plan based its vision of Palestine runs directly through the Adumim region.

The PA recognized the media appeal of “photo ops” showing destitute, barefoot Bedouin children being forcibly evacuated from their makeshift homes by Israeli police and began to use the Jahalin as pawns in their bid to take control of the Adumim region. The PA’s goal, from the outset, had nothing to do with the best interests of the Jahalin; the land, and not the people on it, were their only concern.

The Israeli government initiated a dialogue with the Jahalin more than a decade ago, offering them alternatives. All around Khan al-Ahmar, Route 1 was expanding, and some of the Bedouin living there simply moved elsewhere to avoid the noise and traffic. It was clear to the Jahalin that they could not remain where they were, and they signed a relocation agreement with the State of Israel.

The Palestinian Authority and the European Union jumped right in, pumping money into Khan al-Ahmar and reinventing the narrative of the Bedouin camp’s residents. An Italian NGO, Vento de Terra, built a school on the site and began to bus in Bedouin children from all across the region. At the same time, the PA, the EU and a shadow lawfare organization called the Society of St. Yves worked overtime to force the Jahalin to withdraw from the agreement they had signed with the Israeli government. International media and “human-rights” organizations joined the fray as well. The negative media attention and unlimited funding for the PA’s legal stalling techniques took a heavy toll on the State of Israel’s resolve to defend its own critical interests and enforce the law.

In four separate lawsuits, Israel’s highest court confirmed that the Bedouin encampment at Khan al-Ahmar is illegal and must be evacuated. And while the Jahalin have never made any claims of ownership of the land, the court required the state to “swap” Khan al-Ahmar for alternative property.

The government promptly set aside state land for a new neighborhood on the outskirts of Abu Dis, named “Jahalin West,” and offered a package worth over half a million shekels for each wife in each of the Jahalin households — a package that includes a large plot of land, completely developed and zoned for residential construction, with infrastructure for water and electricity. The new neighborhood will offer services that the Jahalin can only dream of today — services the PA and EU have never offered them, including health clinics, public transportation, proper schools, access to employment and more.

In off-the-record conversations, the Jahalin will tell you how eager they are to relocate and to begin to build their lives in a modern, legal neighborhood. But they will also tell you about how they are threatened by the Palestinian Authority, which will not allow them to relinquish their hold on the strategic piece of land on which Khan al-Ahmar sits.

Last week, the final act in the legal theater-of-the-absurd may have played itself out: Once again, the “representatives” of the Jahalin rejected the state’s relocation package, but this time, the court gave the PA one week to suggest feasible, legal alternatives for the Jahalin. If they are unable to do so, the Jahalin will be relocated to the outskirts of Abu Dis.

The PA has already announced its intention to forcibly resist. If past experience is any indication, the usual choir of voices will soon be raised against “Israeli cruelty” and the “injustice” of the State of Israel’s treatment of the Jahalin.

But this time, perhaps you won’t be fooled.

Naomi Kahn is director of the International Division of Regavim, a research-based think tank and lobbying group dedicated to preserving Israel’s resources and sovereignty.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Myron Joshua

    יש תגובה למאמר…
    This reply was writtrn by a friend who lives in kfat adunima
    This article is unfortunately full of statements that are simply not true.
    It is clear that this is an attempt to create facts and a narrative in order to convince readers that the Jahalin are the enemy of Israel. WRONG.
    1)To begin with, the Jahalin were removed from Israel in 1951, three years after the State of Israel was established. (not the 1970’s) There are conflicting stories as to why, but there is no question that they should have been Israeli citizens and the government forcibly moved them to Jordan. They began near Tel Arad, were removed to Yata which was under Jordanian control and migrated toward the area of the Judean Desert that later was where Ma’ale Adumim, Mishor Adumim and Kfar Adumim were established, that was in the early 70’s. With that members of the tribe were recorded as being in the area of the Dead Sea in the 1800’s.
    2) In 1992, Fayyad was working for the World Bank, and made no statements on the issue. The author is clearly referring to the Fayad plan of 2009 which spoke of a demilitarized Palestinian entity that was to evolve into a Palestinian State. Parts of this plan was actually looked at favorably by the Netanyahu government
    3) The Jahalin were on the land before Kfar Adumim and Maaleh Adumim. In fact the original founding statement of Kfar Adumim mentions the Bedouins living in the area.
    4) The school is actually on land that was assigned to Maaleh Adumim and not Kfar Adumim. The school was built by an Italian NGO which builds schools around the world. Before the school was built the children had to travel large distances to schools in either Jericho or Anata or Abu Dis – nore than once children were invovled in accidents hitching rides to school.
    5) The site at Abu Dis was developed for another branch of the family and only when the new Minister of Defence came in to office did the site get re-assigned to the family living in Khan el Akmar. Moving there will cause the Jahalin to change their agrarian lifestyle, which would be a total cultural change for the tribe and create an economic situation which would be devastating. In addition, the ownership of the land that has been assigned to the tribe in Abu Dis has been challenged and although Israel claims it is state land, there are Palestinians who claim title to the land – the members of the tribe have been threatened by those who claim ownership. Abu Dis is a bad solution and they will not go there. There is not one resident of Khan el Akhmar who will agree to go there. This is just another piece of misinformation that the author culled from one of Regavim’s questionable sources (and they clearly have many)
    6) The Jahalin actually had agreements with landowners from the town of Anata, dating to the 1970’s – which allowed them to use land owned by Anata residents. This land abuts the state owned land upon which Kfar Adumim was established.
    6) The PA – PLO were never in court. It was the Jahalin that went to the High Court of Justice and it was the Jahalin and their lawyer that were told to come up with an alternative, which as all involved know was impossible in the span of one week. The claim that the PA was told to come up with an alternative, is not only false, it is malicious. Regavim uses every possible means to incite hate, delegitimize opponents and create false narratives in order to make their point. All of other claims might have been innocent mistakes, typos or some other careless errors. But with the claim that the High Court in Israel gave the PA one week to produce a solution, the writer basically says that the Jahalin, their lawyer and their friends represent the PA. Delegitimize the opponent – the one without any power. Shame on you Ms. Khan, shame on you Regavim and shame on you Algemeiner.

    There are a group of residents of Kfar Adumim trying to help the Jahalin Bedouins. We are Zionists who believe in the State of Israel, We also believe that with sovereignty comes responsibility. We demand that the State of Israel simply sit down with the Jahalin and find a solution. We have that responsibility. We are aware of the threats that have been leveled against the Jahalin by the PA if they reach an agreement with Israel and agree to move. Regavim does not relate to the Jahalin as people, they and the Palestinian Authority view the Jahalin in exactly the same way – imagine that – Regavim and the PA – working together to dehumanize the Jahalin. They both view them as pawns – as people without any humanity.
    I have only pointed out some of the blatant factual errors – there are many more – but Ms. Kahn, why tell the truth when you can create your own truths.

  • Myron Joshua

    The article above is just another ploy on the part of Regavim to achieve their goal of clearing out all Arabs from under Israeli control, and defining for the Jahalin what is good for them, instead working with the Jahalin and together – the sovereign and the non citizen – Israel with its power and the Jahalin with out theirs – can chart a path of reconciliation and continue forward with dignity and respect. Something that will benifit both the Jahalin tribes people and the State of israeI. I will supply a detailed respresp in the next comment.