Yisrael Katz
Yisrael KatzKobi Richter/TPS

Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz told Channel 11 News that the Israeli government has been "afraid" to take action against the illegal Bedouin village of Khan al Amar over concerns such an act would be the "last straw" for the International Criminal Court.

Katz's statement follows the decision by ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda to open a full investigation into alleged Israeli “war crimes” in Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled territories.

Bensouda said on Friday she is “satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine” and urged judges to rule on the court's jurisdiction "without undue delay".

The prosecutor added however that she did not require any authorization from judges to open a probe as there had been a referral from the Palestinian Authority, which joined the court in 2015 and has since filed a series of legal complaints with it against Israel.

Bensouda’s announcement came hours after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said that the ICC has no jurisdiction to rule on matters in Israel – which is not a party to the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court – because the Palestinian Authority is not a state, and that it has been long established that the final status of the territories under dispute must be settled by negotiations, not criminal proceedings.

Khan al Ahmar is an illegal Bedouin outpost that began to take shape in the 1990s on land within the municipal boundaries of the town of Kfar Adumim. The outpost, situated alongside Route 1, the highway connecting Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, has been at the center of an ongoing legal battle in Israel's highest court for a decade.

Only a few meters from the highway, the Khan al Ahmar school, constructed by an Italian NGO and supported by the Italian government, serves children from a web of Bedouin encampments. The school has served as a focal point, turning Khan al Ahmar into the Palestinian Authority's flagship outpost in the region and generating intense international attention.

Meanwhile, the State of Israel has spent millions preparing dozens of plots of land and laying infrastructure for a new neighborhood not far from Khan al Ahmar, on the outskirts of Abu Dis. The new neighborhood, named Jahalin West, offers each of the Bedouin families of Khan al Ahmar a fully-prepared lot, complete with permits for construction, free of charge. In addition, the Ministry of Defense announced that it would rebuild the Bedouin school in the new neighborhood during the summer vacation, and expedite approval of building plans for the relocated residents' new homes in Jahalin West.

Israeli courts have repeatedly upheld demolition orders issued against the illegal community, culminating in the Supreme Court’s final rejection of the residents’ claims in a ruling in September.