By: Daniel Sokatch
There is a Bedouin village in the West Bank called Khan al Ahmar.
The residents of the village – 32 families – belong to the Jahalin tribe. They used to live in the Negev. In the 1950s, after they were driven out of that area, they made their way to the West Bank and established new homes at the site of what is now the settlement of Kfar Adumim. They were driven out of these homes too. Today, they live in poverty, in an area about two kilometers south of that location.
A decision by the High Court last month has paved the way for the Israeli government, if it so chooses, to demolish the village.
It’s clear why Israel’s settler movement wants to see the village destroyed. Khan al Ahmar sits between Jericho and East Jerusalem, in a sparsely populated area. The opportunity to expand settlements there, while removing the existing Palestinian population, would create a contiguous block of settlements that disconnects the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Bethlehem from Jericho and the Jordan Valley. Doing so would effectively sever the West Bank into two pieces, compromising the contiguity — and as a result, the viability — of any future Palestinian state.
The plan to demolish this village is not only strategically dangerous; it is morally objectionable. The people of the village have already been displaced twice. They are tremendously poor. They deserve to be able to build their lives in peace and security.
Many Israelis are actively working to prevent the demolition of this village. A new petition to the High Court is being prepared. And a remarkable coalition of civil society groups — including human rights groups, organizations representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, and peace groups — are working to draw attention to the plight of the village. NIF is proud to support them.
The moral case against the demolition is so strong that even some settler leaders have spoken up. Among them is Sallai Meridor, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, the former chair of the Jewish Agency, and a founder of Kfar Adumim. Here is some of what he wrote in a damning open letter to his fellow settlers in Kfar Adumim:
“Today I write to you on the verge of tears. I read the High Court’s decision regarding our Bedouin neighbors. It is clear that the four petitions submitted by the association contributed to a decision that would enable the forcible evacuation of our Bedouin neighbors.
“I cannot understand why the village leadership chose to act to expel our neighbors. What led us to want the destruction of their homes? What morality has motivated us to want to expel people for the second time, after their families were already expelled from the State of Israel in the 1950s? What closed mindedness, and perhaps haughtiness, led us to refuse to join the proposal of members of the neighborhood to reach an agreed upon solution? What logic led us to enter this terrible battle with those living next to us?… I hope that they were not motivated by the fact that our neighbors were non-Jews, because this is unacceptable to me as a Jew.”
“The Bedouins were here when we arrived… What has happened to us that we now also demand the poor man’s only sheep? Today, or tonight, when the army will come to expel our neighbors, it will be a sad day not only because of their suffering, but mainly because we caused this suffering. None of us can wash our hands from this. I too remained silent, out of the honor for the community and its emissaries, and I will walk with this mark of Cain for a long time. We cannot wash ourselves clean, because our hands shed this ‘blood’ and we witnessed this.”
I do not know whether we will win the fight to save Khan al Ahmar. It is a fight against the greed and the hubris of the settler movement. It is a fight for the viability of the two-state solution. It is a fight for decency.
I do now know whether we will win this fight. But I do know one thing: we must show up to this fight.
When we show up, whether or not we win, we will demonstrate that the future of Israel and Palestine is not only determined by those who see the conflict as a zero-sum game between the two nations. We will show that Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, can be more than enemies, or even neighbors. They can be partners.
When NIF fights for Khan al Ahmar we are fighting for Israel’s future too.