Moment of decision approaches for PA flagship illegal outpost

Illegal Bedouin outpost near Maaleh Adumim expected to be evacuated and residents relocated awaits Supreme Court decision.

Mordechai Sones,

Khan al Akhmar - on land in Maaleh Adumim adjacent to Dead Sea Highway
Khan al Akhmar - on land in Maaleh Adumim adjacent to Dead Sea Highway

Late last week, the Supreme Court heard a number of petitions involving "Khan al Akhmar," an illegal Bedouin settlement that sprang up in the 1990s on land inside the municipal boundaries of Maaleh Adumim, meters away from the major highway connecting Jerusalem, the Adumim Region, and the Dead Sea. For the past ten years, a school constructed and funded by the government of Italy has served the children of the Bedouin outposts that dot the landscape of this strategic area, and has been the focus of international media and political attention.

Khan al Akhmar sits at the eye of the protracted legal storm that has been raging in Israel's Supreme Court for over a decade. The Regavim movement for protecting Israel's resources and sovereignty first petitioned the Supreme Court in 2009 requesting that the Court compel the Civil Administration to enforce demolition orders that had been issued for the cluster of illegal structures at the site.

When the State notified the Court it would destroy the illegal structures, the petitions submitted by Regavim and Kfar Adumim residents were set aside - but the State failed to honor its commitment. In 2016, the residents of Kfar Adumim resubmitted their petition through the Jerusalem Area Forum, a group advocating land rights preservation for Jewish communities in the Maaleh Adumim area. The new petition asked the Court to establish a schedule for evacuating the illegal outpost that had continued to spread and fester in interim years.

In the course of last week's hearing, the Supreme Court made clear that the Khan al Akhmar saga is entering the home stretch. The State testified it developed dozens of land parcels that are zoned and ready for constructing new homes in a neighborhood known as Jahalin, adjacent to Abu Dis. The lots in question will be given free of charge to the people currently residing in the squatters camp at Khan al Akhmar, and the Defense Ministry will build a new school for the children of this new neighborhood. All of this development and construction is funded entirely by the State of Israel.

Supreme Court Justice Noam Solberg rejected the claims presented by Shlomo Lacker, the attorney representing the Bedouin who are fighting the relocation. Lacker argued that the residents offered the Civil Administration a number of alternatives that were rejected. "The Civil Administration is prepared to conduct a dialogue, but the residents have been uncooperative," said Justice Solberg. "After all these years, we're approaching the point at which a decision will be made."

Attorney Avi Segal, representing the residents of Kfar Adumim, stressed to the Court that all of the so-called alternatives had been put forward and rejected numerous times in the past, because they are not legally or technically feasible. "Almost a decade after the illegal construction and the Court order to demolish it, we contend that in this case the State has shirked its responsibilities. It is not reasonable that a compound that is a top priority for law enforcement has not been demolished and has not been evacuated for an entire decade."

Jahalin West - relocation site near Abu Dis for the residents of Khan al Akhmar
צילום: Regavim

"Not only is this a case of illegal construction, it's also a case of a serious hazard along a major thoroughfare," added Atty. Hadas Eran, the State's representative in the case. "This is a strategic location that presents a clear danger, and the relevant bodies insist it must be evacuated; this position has been universally endorsed, including by the Defense Minister."

The Supreme Court justices concluded the hearing of this case by stating "the arguments of the representatives of the parties have been completed." At the same time, they granted a final extension of one week to enable the Bedouin appellants to suggest a consensual evacuation plan "to a site that has the requisite detailed, valid urban and zoning plan that would enable issuing building permits, as does the alternative presented by the State for the relocation of Khan al Akhmar to Jahalin West." The fact that the rehashed proposals submitted in the past for alternative locations are not feasible, both in terms of their legal aspects and their planning and zoning, gives even greater weight to the Court's statement regarding the imminent decision on the outpost's future.

"The Palestinian Authority sees these Bedouin as chess pieces to be manipulated in its strategic plan, but the State of Israel, not the PA, has created real solutions for their relocation in modern, legal communities that will provide them with full services," explains Yishai Hemo, Field Coordinator for Judea and Samaria at Regavim. "Relocation of this outpost is the litmus test for the process of regulation that the State of Israel has created for the Bedouin population of the region. Completing the evacuation of Khan al Akhmar will send a clear and unmistakable message to the Palestinian Authority, as well as a clear statement against foreign meddling in the illegal construction in Judea and Samaria."

The Jerusalem Area Forum added, "The procrastination that has characterized the State's behavior for too many years sent a signal of appeasement to the PA that encouraged them to build thousands of illegal structures between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, with the generous funding of foreign countries. We welcome the fact that, at long last, the State, under the leadership of the Defense Minister and his team, is taking steps to correct this defective and deficient policy, to protect the law, and to protect the most important roadway in Israel."