Khan al-Ahmar: the village holding out against Israel

Solar panels finally brought electricity to the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, but the residents’ joy was short lived. A few weeks after the panels were installed, Israeli authorities confiscated the devices. It’s the newest chapter in Israel’s long battle to get rid of the strategically-located village.


Israeli authorities confiscated solar panels in Khan el-Ahmar. Screen grab from a video by Israeli NGO B'Tselem.

Solar panels finally brought electricity to the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, but the residents’ joy was short lived. A few weeks after the panels were installed, Israeli authorities confiscated them, indicating the latest chapter in Israel's long battle to quash the strategically located village. 

On Wednesday, policemen and Israeli soldiers escorted employees of the Israeli Civil Administration (the governing body of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank) on a trip to Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village located a few kilometres from east Jerusalem. There, they dismantled 11 solar panels, most of which had just been donated and installed by the Palestinian NGO Future for Palestine to give this village a few hours of electricity a day.

Israel has a long history of opposing any construction or development projects in Khan al-Ahmar, which is the last Palestinian outpost in the E1 zone in the West Bank. Though the total area of the zone is only about 12 km², it has both strategic and symbolic importance for Israel because it connects the northern and southern West Bank. According to numerous analysts, local NGOs and UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Israel is looking to expel the last Palestinian residents of Khan al-Ahmar in order to connect the Israeli settlement Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem. Moreover, cutting the last direct link between the north and south parts of the West Bank would further break up the Palestinian Territories, which are already dotted with Israeli settlements, and would create one more barrier to the development of a Palestinian state in the future.

The Bedouin are a semi-nomadic Arab people who have lived for several centuries in the Negev desert. Today, the Bedouins are Israeli citizens. There are 150,000 of them, making up 12 per cent of Israel’s Arab population with most earning their living through agriculture and livestock.

Today, the tension in Khan al-Ahmar is palpable, especially since Israel began construction of 3,000 houses in the E1 zone in December 2012. This active settlement expansion was launched just after the UN gave observer state status to Palestine in November 2012. Israel has also prevented any new construction from taking place in the Palestinian village, so the removal of the solar panels fell into a well-worn pattern.

“Israel decided it was illegal to build in Khan al-Ahmar, but they didn’t consult with any Palestinians”

Arik Ascherman is the president of Rabbis for Human Rights, an NGO made up of rabbis who oppose, notably, the demolition of homes and displacement of villages.

My NGO has worked with the residents of Khan al-Ahmar since the late 90s to try to make a case for their rights in the midst of Israel’s push to colonise the region. The villagers contacted us when the trucks arrived to remove the panels and I went there immediately. All in all, eleven panels were taken down, including one which had been there for several years and which helped bring a little bit of energy to this deprived village. The residents didn’t resist.

I asked the police and the officials several times why they were removing these panels. They all had the same response, simply saying: ‘It’s illegal to build here.’ But who wrote that law? I tried to explain to them that Israelis had determined what constituted as illegal and that no Palestinian had been consulted in this decision.

I then asked them how they would react if someone had just told them they couldn’t live in their homes because of a decision that they had no say in. But, of course, I didn’t get a response. I also tried to call the district attorney, but, unsurprisingly, he wasn’t available.

The conflict over Khan al-Ahmar has been going on for years. I think that the only factors preventing Israel from simply displacing the residents are media interest and the high level of international pressure on this subject. Still, I don’t know how much longer we can hold out. I do have hope that the Bedouin’s lawyer will manage to show that there is no legal justification for the removal of the panels because, according to him, the installation of these solar panels does not constitute an actual “construction” under Israeli law. That would be one little victory for us.

Israeli authorities confiscated solar panel. Photo: Rabbis for Human Rights.

Israel has offered to relocate those living in Khan al-Ahmar to a site located about ten kilometres from Jericho. The Israeli officials say that this would “improve their living conditions by making sure they live in housing that is up to code and give them access to adequate infrastructure for water, electricity and sewers as well as school systems.” But the residents have refused.

“The place where Israel wants us to ‘relocate’ would be like a prison”

Abu Khamiss is the spokesperson of the Khan al-Ahmar residents.

As a Palestinian, I can’t accept to leave this village. If we abandon Khan al-Ahmar, that would jeopardise the future of a Palestinian state and practically nullify the peace process.

The place where Israel wants us to ‘relocate’ would be like a prison for us. We’d be surrounded by Israeli settlements, a check-point and military training camps. We would no longer have room to continue our traditional livestock breeding. Their plan is to gather more than 10,000 Bedouins in the same place!

Photo : Rabbis for Human Rights.

All the same, it is frustrating to remain here: we don’t have access to electricity even though, a few dozen metres from our village, there are cables that supply Jericho and some of the neighbouring Israeli settlements with power. The solar panels gave us access to electricity for two months. During that time, we bought a lot of appliances to improve life in the village, including refrigerators, televisions, devices for making milk into curds and some washing machines. Without power, we can no longer use any of these appliances. Once again, we are being deprived of our rights.

Post written with France 24 journalist Corentin Bainier (@cbainier).