LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A Catholic-Anglican delegation met with British officials on Monday to try and stop the demolition of a Bedouin village in the West Bank.
Israel claims the village of Khan al-Ahmar – located between two Israeli settlements – was built without the proper permits, which Palestinians have long complained are nearly impossible to get.
“Earlier today we met with the Minister for the Middle East at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and shared our deep concern about the planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar,” said the statement issued by Catholic Bishop Declan Lang, chair of the Holy Land Co-ordination, and Bishop Christopher Chessun, Anglican Bishop of Southwark.
The Holy Land Co-ordination brings bishops from Europe, North America, and South Africa on an annual pilgrimage of the Holy Land in a show of solidarity with the region’s Christian community.
The Bedouin are a nomadic Arab people, often herdsmen raising sheep and goats, and their villages have often been targeted by the Israeli government. Khan al-Ahmar has a population of about 180 people, and the houses are mostly tin and wood shacks.
“For more than a decade people in the Khan al Ahmar community, which is located near to where large Israeli settlements have been established, have resisted efforts to move them to make way for settlement expansion. Legal avenues to resist ended on May 24, 2018, when the Israeli High Court ruled there was no reason to delay implementation of demolition orders over the structures in the community, including a school,” said Liz Throssell, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on July 3.
“Demolition of Khan al Ahmar would dramatically increase the coercive environment in which the community is living. There is also grave concern that should the demolition go ahead, the community may ultimately be forcibly transferred by the occupying power. International humanitarian law prohibits the forced transfer of the population of an occupied territory, regardless of the motive,” she continued.
Palestinians fear that if the village is turned into an Israeli settlement, it will almost bisect any future Palestinian state in the West Bank.
“If the demolition goes ahead this would not only violate the rights of those families living in the village but would also deal a critical blow to hopes of a viable Palestinian State,” Lang and Chessun said in their July 16 statement.
“Our churches are committed to upholding the human dignity of all in the Holy Land and promoting a peaceful two-state solution. We therefore stand in solidarity with the residents of Khan al-Ahmar and call on our government to use every diplomatic means at its disposal to prevent the Israeli authorities from destroying their homes,” their statement concluded.
Also on Monday, the school in Khan al-Ahmar opened for studies, a month ahead of the start of the academic year in the rest of Palestine. The move was a symbolic protest – students will not return to class until Sept. 1.
The Israeli High Court of Justice is still considering the appeal filed by the villagers, which led to a temporary halt to the demolition.