Politicians, activists warn against ‘cosmetic evacuation’ of illegal Bedouin village

Leaders say defense minister plans to move the illegal Bedouin encampment just a few hundred meters away from its present site.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Right-wing leaders warned Sunday against what they say is Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s plan to undertake a “cosmetic evacuation” of a small Bedouin encampment next to Jerusalem.

Politicians and members of the Binyamin Regional Council, the Jerusalem Envelope Forum and the Regavim movement went to see the area they believe the government will allow some 180 Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar to move to, and were outraged.

MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) charged that the State of Israel had already “invested millions” in 70 plots of land that are completely ready for their new tenants, but, “like in the Negev,” the Bedouin are not being relocated from their illegal outpost built on state land.

“Despite the very, very clear promises of [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett, of [Justice Minister Gidon] Saar, of [Finance Minister Avigdor] Liberman to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar, Gantz prefers giving it some cosmetic treatment – to move [it] 200 meters over, so they can continue to take over, continue blocking and dividing Jerusalem and Route 1, the lifeline of all the settlements around Jerusalem,” he said.

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The Jerusalem Envelope Forum, an organization of communities surrounding Jerusalem, had already warned about the danger of the planned move last month.

Talking of a 300-meter move, Forum head Boaz Ido said in April, “The Bennett-Saar government is breaking new records for cynicism. After dozens of promises that they would remove the illegal outpost, we find out that they are working to increase the security threat and legalize hundreds of additional buildings. We’ve lost [all] governance and logic.”

The Forum posted a video showing that Khan al-Ahmar is actually only one of a string of illegal Bedouin encampments along Route 1, the main road out to several Jewish villages that then continues on to the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley.

According to settlement leaders, the Palestinian Authority has encouraged and supported these outposts in a deliberate plan to cut off the contiguity between Jerusalem and its eastern environs, which it wants for its own state.

It has been four years since Israel’s High Court ordered the final removal of the group of shacks, although 13 years have passed since the demolition orders were first given.

Time after time, the Likud-led government asked for extensions so that it could negotiate an agreement with the squatters, who have repeatedly refused to move to the land set aside for them within Jerusalem city limits. They have even threatened violence if any attempt is made to evacuate them.

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The unity government continued the practice, with the last postponement of its official response to the court requested for 30 days, which it asked for in March. The ostensible reason for the delay was the need for discussions with senior government officials including Bennett, which wasn’t possible due to “current circumstances in the global diplomatic arena, including the prime minister’s involvement in the war in Europe.”

Rothman dismissed the reasoning out of hand.

“The State of Israel lied to the High Court,” he said bluntly. “[It] said that the reason that there’s no answer as yet on Khan al-Ahmar is that Bennett is busy making peace in Ukraine. We haven’t received peace in Ukraine, but we’ve gotten yet another postponement, another extension and another lie.”

The lives of the Jewish residents around Jerusalem will be “hell in the future” if the outpost isn’t removed, he added.

Several days after the state’s request, in response to a petition filed by Regavim, a non-governmental organization that seeks to protect state land, the High Court of Justice issued a conditional order to the state to explain within 120 days why it wasn’t fulfilling its own commitment to the court to enforce the law.