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Michael Jansen: Left without a roof

The UN General Assembly resolution adopted on June 13 by a vote of 120 in favour, eight opposed and 45 abstentions, condemned Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians and called for their protection. Among supporters were 12 European states, including France, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Portugal and Greece. Sixteen European countries abstained. The eight countries that voted against the resolution were the “usual suspects,” the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Togo and the Solomon Islands, plus Australia. The latter appears to be confused as it has declared it will not shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following the lead of the Trump administration and several US client governments.

The resolution, a clone of the text submitted to the Security Council and vetoed by the US, was just another document to add to the collection stored on dusty shelves somewhere in the bowels of UN headquarters in New York City.

The Assembly, which represents the 193 members of the world body, was called upon to add its voice to rising protests against the shooting in cold blood by Israeli army snipers of 120 unarmed Palestinians who, since early March, have demonstrated against being confined by Israel’s fence in the narrow Gaza Strip, blockaded and besieged. Any Palestinian — man, woman, child or infant — who approaches the fence or the Israeli-declared dead zone on the Gaza side of the fence risks being shot and wounded or killed. There is no doubt that the people of Gaza need “protection” against Israel’s sharp shooters.

Palestinians dwelling in East Jerusalem and the West Bank also require “protection” — from Israeli bulldozers empowered to wreak havoc by Israel’s Supreme Court. The small Bedouin settlement of Khan al-Ahmar, located on Route 1, the main road from Jerusalem to Jericho, has long been slated for demolition, on the ground that its “structures” have been built without planning permission.

Israel nearly never issues permits to Palestinians, compelling them to risk demolition if they are to have shelter for their families and livestock. Israeli colonists, of course, not only receive permits but also government and foreign grants and are quickly connected with the electricity grid and water pipes — which feed their swimming pools. Essential services are rarely accorded to Palestinians.

Khan al-Ahmar is set on a barren hill hosting 173 Jahalin Bedouin who survive on UN rations and by herding sheep and goats watered in a wadi below the settlement. In 1952, families from the Jahilin tribe were driven from their traditional pasturage in the Negev to the bleak hills where survivors and descendents scrape a meagre living. The Bedouin settlement once had more than 16,000 dunums of land, of which 500 were planted with cereals while the rest was too poor to cultivate. In the late 1970s, the Israelis expropriated the land belonging to Khan al-Ahmar for the illegal hilltop colony of Maali Adumim. A second colony, Kafr Adumim, its neat white houses with red tile roofs, looms on a nearby hilltop, seeks to snatch away the last tract of Khan al-Ahmar land.

The name, Khan al-Ahmar, the “Red Inn,” of the settlement comes from a 13th-century hospice built on the site of St. Euthymius Monastery, after its destruction by the Mamluk Sultan Baybars.

I visited Khan al-Ahmar in September 2011, two years after villagers, with the help of an Italian non-governmental organisation, Vento di Terra, built an iconic school for their children and the children from nearby settlements. The Jahilin needed the school so its smallest children could study in the settlement after five were killed while waiting for a bus on the verge of the highway.

Khan al-Ahmar’s men worked 24 hours a day to complete the single storey buildings constructed of cast off rubber tyres plastered with clay baked in the hot sun before being painted white. The buildings, equipped with photovoltaic cell panels to provide power, originally had five classrooms for elementary students. Three more classrooms were added later and in 2014 the UN Development Programme renovated and upgraded the premises. The school, the only elegant structure in Khan al-Ahmar, contrasts sharply with the rough wooden, plastic and metal sheet shacks where the impoverished Jahilin live with their families and the ramshackle pens where they corral their sheep and goats.

Israel ordered the school’s demolition a month after completion. The demolition order has threatened the school ever since. The Israeli military prohibits the construction of permanent buildings in area C of the West Bank, 60 per cent of the area which is ruled exclusively by Israel. This is why Vento di Terra proposed building the school of tyres.

The tyre school has attracted wide media attention and in 2012, project plans and photos were exhibited at the XII Biennial of Architecture in Venice. Wide media attention appears to have preserved the school and Khan al-Ahmar from Israel’s bulldozers until now. However, since the school and Khan al-Ahmar have become icons of steadfastness and resistance to the Israeli occupation, the current right-wing Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu has become all the more determined to erase the school and shift the Jahilin to a reeking bulldozed refuse dump outside the West Bank village of Bethany where, according to the Bible’s New Testament, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The Jahilin and another 20 Bedouin communities, totalling 2,300 people slated to be relocated to the dump, are likely to suffer illness and expire rather than be resurrected from the dead due to the toxic materials beneath the flattened surface of the landfill.

In addition to endangering the health and lives of the Bedouin, the Bethany site is too small for them to keep their flocks, depriving them of their livelihood and making them all the more dependent on rations and services of the UN agency providing for Palestinian refugees which is suffering its most acute cash crisis thanks to Donald Trump’s refusal to deliver funding traditionally provided by the US.
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The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East

affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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