Friday

22nd Mar 2019

Opinion

EU's moment of truth in Khan al-Ahmar

  • Visible, public pressure brought Khan al-Ahmar thus far (Photo: Photo by Rima Essa)

Sometimes, the last day in court isn't.

The 24 May decision by Israeli High Court justices Sohlberg, Baron and Willner was supposed to be just that for Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian community a few kilometres east of Jerusalem. Their last day in court, to be followed by the imminent demolition of the entire community by Israeli authorities.

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As unanimous and unequivocal as it was in its delivery, that day's decision was no more than an attempt to provide a guise of formal legality for deeply immoral - and fundamentally illegal - state actions.

Deploying formalistic blindness of the most cynical kind, the justices conveniently opted to ignore such "details" as the fact that Israel has systematically established a planning regime through which it almost never allows Palestinians to receive building permits.

With the essential context conveniently tucked away, the judges paved the way for "rule of law"-based reasoning for demolishing a school, dozens of homes - and the lives of more than 170 Palestinians.

Such decisions should be challenged locally and internationally - and this one certainly was.

Peaceful community leadership by Eid Jahalin and others; non-violent resistance by activists on the days earlier this month when Israeli bulldozers were making preparations for the coming demolitions - 11 were arrested and dozens injured by Israeli security forces' brutality; visible diplomatic action - through statements as well as physical presence such as the 5 July visit by diplomats from France, the UK, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Ireland; an international open letter signed by more than 300 elected officials, legal scholars, academics, artists, faith leaders, and activists from around the world; and a clear articulation of the community's demolition as the war crime it might become if realised - all these, combined, were perhaps part of the context for a sudden willingness on the part of the High Court not to reject offhand a new petition.

New day

Now, Khan al-Ahmar has a new day in court: 1 August.

The 24 May decision did not make the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar one ounce more morally acceptable. All it did was to both greenlight the looming war crime and make the judges complicit in it, and personally liable for it.

With that now in mind, what will the judges consider in the forthcoming hearing?

As already demonstrated in recent weeks, we must focus on keeping the issue in the forefront of international attention.

The official protest by the EU-5 (the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain) was key - but as can be learned from court filings submitted by Israel in the new petition, it was not enough: Israel remained steadfast in its intention to go ahead.

The 10 July court submission by the state was unflinching: "Clarifying that the Civil Administration enforcement authorities, as well as the Israeli police and various other parties on behalf of the respondents, are in the last stretch of preparations for the implementation of the final demolition orders in the Khan al-Ahmar compound, according to the outline presented by the state. For the sake of clarity of opinion and the removal of doubt - this last stretch means the implementation of the demolition orders within a foreseeable period of a few days."

Yet, the judges are now giving this further consideration. And with more concrete actions, Israeli decision makers may as well.

The EU-5 have spoken out assertively. And on 18 July, EU high representative Federica Mogherini threatened "very serious" consequences.

But what would these be? What would they have done if no new petition had been filed and if the court hadn't issued a temporary order and the demolitions would have gone ahead as Israel officially insisted it was planning to do without delay?

International pressure

For this scenario not to become reality, they - and others - must redouble the efforts to save this community.

The efforts to date have meant that 24 May was not, after all, the last day. Two months later, Khan al-Ahmar still stands. We have a fighting chance to save this community - and dozens of others: Israeli intentions are to forcibly transfer thousands of Palestinians.

Visible, public pressure brought Khan al-Ahmar thus far. Wednesday (1 August) is the new target day, to make Israel reconsider its intentions and back off. Khan al-Ahmar's moment of truth is our moment of truth.

For decades, Israel has refused to allow Khan al-Ahmar to even have a decent access road. This month, the state finally paved one: not to serve the residents, but to make it possible to demolish their homes.

Perhaps, if justice does prevail, not only will the community be allowed to stay in place, but it will also finally have a proper access road. The last stretch towards demolitions could become the first step towards construction, development and justice.

Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B'Tselem, an NGO in Jerusalem

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