JERUSALEM: Israel’s top court on Wednesday upheld an order to raze a Palestinian Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank, clearing the way for the demolition to go ahead despite international pressure.
The ruling means that in seven days authorities will be allowed to raze Khan Al-Ahmar, which Israel says was built illegally.
“We reject the petitions” against the directive to demolish Khan Al-Ahmar, the supreme court panel said in its decision, adding that a temporary order preventing the razing of the village during court hearings “will be canceled in seven days from today.”
It will now be down to the authorities to decide when to carry out the demolition after the restriction order ends.
The United Nations, European Union and rights groups have opposed the razing of the village, which consists mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood.
They argue the move will enable Israeli settlement expansion that would cut the West Bank in two, making the prospects of a Palestinian state even dimmer.
In May, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against its demolition after nine years of hearings before various tribunals.
The court said Khan Al-Ahmar residents had rejected proposals by the state regarding the site of their relocation, and expressed hope “the dialogue” would continue.
Activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits that are almost never issued to Palestinians in the large parts of the West Bank where Israel has full control over civil affairs.
Hussein Abu Dahook, a resident of the hamlet, said the court wanted to “expel Palestinians and replace them with Israelis.”
“We are already refugees, we were expelled 70 years ago, and they want us to move again?” he said, referring to the 1948 war that accompanied Israel’s foundation and forced many Arabs from their homes.
But while Israel has “guns and tanks,” residents of Khan Al-Ahmar would “stay to the end,” Abu Dahook vowed.
Tawfiq Jabareen, one of the lawyers representing Khan Al-Ahmar residents in the petitions, said the court “was following Israel’s right-wing government” in its ruling, which he said was “legally wrong.”
“It is not based on legal arguments and contradicts past supreme court rulings,” he told AFP. “This is unfortunately what the government wants, and the court doesn’t want to intervene.”
Jabareen said there were currently no understandings between the state and residents on a voluntary relocation.
“I’ve never seen someone who’s being expelled and whose house is being destroyed sitting idly by,” he said.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who oversees the occupation of the West Bank, praised the judges for their decision in the face of “the coordinated attack of hypocrisy by (Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas), the left and European states.”
“Nobody is above the law, nobody will keep us from acting on our sovereignty and responsibility as a state,” he said.
Khan Al-Ahmar, which is east of Jerusalem, is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.
Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union in July expressed their support of the village, and the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Jamie McGoldrick, condemned the Israeli demolition order.