Dry Bones - Khan al Ahmar
Dry Bones - Khan al AhmarY. Kirschen

The Government of Israel has been ordered to formulate and submit to the High Court of Justice by April 2 its plan for demolishing and evacuating the illegal Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Ahmar – compliance with which could have serious international repercussions and jeopardize negotiations begun on January 24 to create the Hashemite Kingdom of Palestine.

A clearly-frustrated Justice Sohlberg delivered the Court’s judgement on 7 February – Justices Baron and Willner concurring:

“... the existing situation is comfortable for it [the Israeli Government]: Once every few months it files a request for an extension, which the petitioner opposes and the court accedes to through gritted teeth, and the world carries on as normal; deciding not to decide. This mode of operation, which is perhaps possible in some circumstances outside of the court’s walls, is not acceptable to us, and certainly not for such a lengthy period of time.”

Sohlberg said the court understood that the government had only just taken office - but the Court surprisingly refused Netanyahu’s request for a four-month extension:

“when experience teaches us that one postponement leads to another and there is never a substantive answer.”

Eight adjournments had already been granted to earlier Israeli Governments grappling with achieving the peaceful outcomes expressed in the Court’s interim decision on 24 May 2018:

“We have come to the conclusion of this judgment. Our decision therein follows the letter of the law, according to which there is no legal cause to intervene in the decision of the minister of defense to execute the demolition orders issued for the illegal structures in Khan al-Ahmar.

The law does not ignore the human complexities naturally involved in a large-scale removal of illegal structures, despite their illegality. Law enforcement is important, as is the desire to enter discussions and reach a solution peacefully. The voices calling for discussions and a consensual solution were well heard in the proceedings in these petitions. The Court, too, asked to see whether there still remained a concrete proposal that could serve as a basis for such renewed discussions, despite the late stage in the process. On the other hand, the law is not subordinate to this desire.

At the end of the day, we are past the eleventh hour. As recalled, the first demolition orders were issued back in 2009. As worthy as the voices heard through the courtroom calling for collaboration and dialogue might be, they should have been directed at policy makers in real time over the years. The Court does not and cannot consider what the ideal solution for Khan al Ahmar residents might be. The Court judicially reviews the decisions made by the State. This review has yielded that, just as there was no cause to instruct the State to enforce the law when it sought to refrain from doing so, so there is no cause to instruct it to withhold enforcement when it wishes to proceed with it.

This conclusion is not the end of the road. The State has declared before the Court its willingness to enter into an honest dialogue with the compound residents to make practical arrangements for the evacuation and relocation to the Jahalin West site. One hopes this, in fact, will take place. The end of the road can be reached peacefully and consensually.”

A ninth adjournment would have maintained the delicate status quo since 2018 – also preserving thousands of illegal European Union- funded Arab structures from threatened demolition.

The “Palestinian Foreign Ministry” request that the United States and European Union intervene to prevent Khan Al Ahmar’s demolition would have been postponed.

The High Court of Justice has lobbed an unnecessary, politically-explosive time bomb into Netanyahu’s lap.

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Author’s note: The cartoon — commissioned exclusively for this article — is by Yaakov Kirschen aka “Dry Bones”- one of Israel’s foremost political and social commentators — whose cartoons have graced the columns of Israeli and international media publications for decades