BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Israeli Supreme Court is currently deciding the fate of an unrecognized Bedouin village in the South Hebron Hills in the occupied West Bank, scheduled to be demolished and its population transferred to an adjacent village in March 2018, according to a statement released Tuesday by Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR).
RHR said that the Israeli Supreme Court responded to a petition submitted by residents of the threatened Palestinian village of Dkeika in the West Bank with the assistance of RHR on Tuesday, issuing an order to the Israeli state to explain within 90 days its decision to reject a master plan that had been submitted by residents of Dkeika aimed at “legalizing” the village’s existence and development.
RHR explained that the petition has demanded that the residents be able to continue residing on their land by approving a master plan for the village or “another administrative solution,” that would be provided by the Israeli Civil Administration in order to prevent the expulsion of more than 300 residents.
“Israel does not recognize the village and refuses to approve the professional, village-initiated master plan that would allow residents to apply for building permits,” RHR said in the statement. “Left with no other recourse, villagers are forced to build ‘illegally.’”
However, the state has demanded that the village be demolished and its population transferred to the nearby village of Hmeida, which also does not have an approved master plan, and therefore must exist under the constant threat of Israeli demolitions.
“This means Dkeika’s residents will once again be vulnerable to the risk of forced transfer and further demolitions following implementation of the state’s ‘solution,’” the group said.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem has reported that the Israeli Civil Administration’s goals in the South Hebron Hills, where some 30 Palestinian villages are located, is to prevent construction. “One way this is done is by not preparing master plans that would enable the legalization of existing construction as well as future development.”
Following the implementation of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, Dkeika, like the rest of the South Hebron Hills, was designated as Area C — the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control — and thus restricted from any developments without nearly impossible-to-obtain Israeli building permits.
B’Tselem has pointed out that the inability for the villages to obtain permits prevents residents from building housing, schools, medical clinics, and are prohibited from connecting to the power grid or water pipes that Israel has constructed in the area in order to serve Israeli settlements, established in the occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law.
The Israeli Civil Administration has argued in the past that it is not able to approve construction plans in the South Hebron Hill because “they do not meet the planning criteria it has stipulated for the legalization of construction in Area C,” B’Tselem said. However, the Israeli criteria are “intended primarily to impede construction in Palestinian villages,” the group added.
“They do not take into account the complex structure of land ownership, the history of Palestinian residence on the land (documented at least as far back as the nineteenth century) or the residents’ independent ability to construct public buildings to serve the neighboring Palestinian communities,” B’Tselem reported.
Meanwhile, these building restrictions do not apply to Israeli settlers illegally residing in Palestinian territory.
For Dkeika, the Israeli state does not recognize it and claims that the community is not a real village. However, RHR noted that aerial photos of Dkeika shows that the village existed before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, and is said to have existed for more than a century.
According to RHR, 111 of the 140 structures in the village have pending demolition orders against them.
“Given the growing needs of the villagers and their unique agrarian livelihood, the residents’ wish to continue building within the plan’s boundaries is a clear necessity,” RHR said. “However… there is the distinct possibility that all of the structures in the village may be demolished.”
According to The Jerusalem Post, Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel had “sharply criticized” the residents of Dkeika for building new structures in the village without Israeli permission after submitting the petition, as the Israeli state had agreed to refrain from carrying out demolitions if no new structures were built.
Hendel reportedly demanded that the residents remove the structures, calling it a “red line.” RHR noted that 15 homes were built following the submission of the petition to the Supreme Court, and added that these structures were at a “higher vulnerability for demolition” and could “potentially play a role in the court’s decision.”
Odeh Najada, a resident of the village, had reportedly told The Jerusalem Post that the new homes were built in the village owing to the expanding population. “I have a human need to build. Life can’t stop,” he reportedly said.
According The Jerusalem Post, Israeli State Attorney Tadmor Etzion has made the case that the residents “have no ties to the land.”
“There is no justification for creating a new settlement for such a small population. There is no infrastructure there,” she reportedly said. “They will still be able to herd their sheep in the area where they herd them today.”
However, RHR pointed out that the forced removal of residents from an occupied territory was “forbidden” and a “grave breach of international law.”
Palestinians and rights groups have long claimed that the removal of Palestinian communities in Area C, most of whom are Bedouin, is aimed at creating space for the expansion of all-Jewish Israeli settlements, built in the occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law.
Other Bedouin villages in Area C also face routine demolitions by Israeli forces and threats of forcible removal.
Earlier this year, Israeli authorities delivered demolition notices to every single home in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, including the village’s elementary school. The village is located on the site of planned Israeli settlement development and on the Israeli side of the planned route of Israel’s separation barrier.
Khan al-Ahmar is one of 46 villages comprising of a population of 7,000 — 70 percent of whom are Palestinian refugees — in the central West Bank that are considered by the UN as being at risk of forcible transfer by Israeli authorities to alternative sites.