By Wafa Ali
Abu Khamees was born in Khan Al-Ahmar some 52 years ago. His parents, Palestinian Al-Jahhalin Bedouins, moved to the village, which is now threatened with demolition by Israeli occupation forces, after being forcibly displaced from Tell Erad in 1951 to make way for the expansion of Israel.
The family chose this site because from here “we can reach Wadi Al-Qilt, which is full of springs and grazing areas for herding. It’s about 1.5 kilometres north of where we are,” he explains. Herding is a main source of income for the village’s 35 families with approximately 1,000 sheep belonging to the village’s 193 inhabitants.
As a result of the Nakba, Al-Jahhalin Bedouins are spread over 26 communities in the area, all face the threat of demolition.
With their position in the so-called E1 area where an Israeli settlement expansion project is planned along the Jerusalem-Jericho road, the communities have battled for their existence for decades. Israeli occupation forces maintain that the homes must be demolished because they were built without the impossible to attain building permits. Meanwhile, the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim has been growing since 1975, it is now home to more than 37,000 Israeli settlers.
Khan Al-Ahmar suffered the consequences of the 1993 Oslo Accords which left the area under Israeli military and administrative control, making life for Bedouins more difficult.
“It made it more miserable. When the Balfour Declaration was signed it was giving the occupation the right to be here, but there wasn’t any Arab involved in that, all of them condemned it. Oslo is the same thing, but it is a disaster that the Arabs made, they signed it, handing us to the Israelis, we are fully controlled by the occupation, when we try to say no, they just tell us this is Oslo, this is Area C.”
We first received an eviction order in 1997, because after Oslo they were able to do such a thing. They have been trying to kick us out since then
Abu Khamees explains.
The situation became worse after the Second Intifada which was launched in 2000 and lasted five years. The result was restrictions to everyday life.
“Women used to be able to go to the nearest main market in Ezariya, which is 12 kilometres from here, and get all the groceries needed for their households, after the Intifada the occupation added checkpoints between our community and Ezariya, it takes more time and you can waste a day stuck at a checkpoint. It’s the same reason why kids stopped seeking education outside the village,” the father of seven adds.
The village has gained global attention with EU delegations and activists from around the world visiting to learn more about the situation of its residents and the threat they are under. Amongst its neighbours, Khan Al-Ahmar is unique in its amenities, being home to the area’s only school and medical clinic.
“They [the occupation] know if they demolish Khan Al-Ahmar they will end services in other communities, the demolition would have an impact on several communities not just us,” Abu Khamees says of why the village has attained such a high international profile and why the occupation as pinpointed it for demolition first.
The last Israeli court order for Khan Al-Ahmar’s demolition was received in May, Abu Khamees says, since then, residents have avoided leaving their homes.
It’s like a prison, we are imprisoned here because no one wants to be away if they come to demolish our homes.
Around 400 supporters, including international and Israeli activists, have set up camp in the village in solidarity with the residents hoping to stop the demolition. They have come face to face with heavily armed occupation forces who have responded to their solidarity heavy-handedly, often arresting activists.
“Having this much attention is slowing down the process, but it will not be a solution for anything. When they demolish, it will be a disaster.”
His final message to the occupation is simple: “I’m from 1948 lands, let me go there and I will leave this village.”