Jahalin West
Jahalin West Regavim

Israel's Supreme Court publicized its decision in the matter of Khan al Ahmar, 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 nearly a decade: Regavim, an NGO dedicated to preserving Israel's national land resources, and the Kfar Adumim Township, jointly petitioned the Supreme Court in 2009 to instruct the Civil Administration to enforce demolition orders that had been issued for the cluster of structures; the residents of the encampment filed counter-petitions in an attempt to block the evacuation of the site.

Only a few meters from the highway, the Khan al Akhmar 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 Akhmar 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 Akhmar, 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.

The Supreme Court's recent decision rejected two petitions that had been filed on behalf of the Bedouin, and dismissed a fourth petition filed by Kfar Adumim requesting the evacuation of the illegal outpost from within the township's municipal lines.

"There are no legal grounds to justify intervention in the Minister of Defense's decision to enforce the demolition orders that were issued against the illegal structures in Khan al Akhmar," wrote Justices Sohlberg, Willner and Baron. "This decision does not make light of the complex human aspects that are unavoidable in a large-scale evacuation of illegal construction, despite its illegality. Law enforcement is important, as is the attempt to reach a resolution through dialogue and peaceful means."

"When all is said and done," added the Supreme Court Justices, "we are long past the 'zero hour.' Demolition orders, we should recall, were first issued for these structures in 2009, and the calls we have heard in this courtroom for cooperation and dialogue, as worthy as they may be, should by all rights have been raised in real time, over the course of the intervening years, and should have been directed to policy- and decision- makers."

The judges criticized the plaintiffs' conduct, noting that they had repeatedly taken advantage of the State's willingness to reach an agreed-upon solution by presenting futile, unfeasible suggestions. "The impression is that the aim of these alternative suggestion was to "buy time." … Raising unrealistic suggestions at this point, after years in which the State postponed enforcement of demolition orders in order to consider alternatives, is unacceptable." The decision denied the plaintiffs' request that the Court intervene in the State's decision to enforce the law, and expressed the hope that the matter could be resolved peacefully and in an atmosphere of cooperation.

Regavim welcomed the Supreme Court's decision. "This is the final chapter in a long legal proceeding we began a decade ago; the Court's decision gives the State a green light to enforce the law. The Supreme Court expressed the expectation that the State will fulfill its duty to enforce the law, as it has repeatedly committed to do over the years of this proceeding. The State must now complete the process of relocating the outpost in a timely fashion, as a litmus test for regulation and relocation of other Bedouin populations in the area. Successful completion of the evacuation of Khan al Akhmar will send a clear message to the Palestinian Authority, and to the foreign interests that have been and continue to be involved in illegal construction throughout Judea and Samaria."