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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Khan Al Ahmar is a symbol of the world's failure to protect refugees

Palestinians from the Bedouin village near Jerusalem are being stripped of what little they have

Bedouin children in Khan Al Ahmar going to school. Heidi Levine / The National
Bedouin children in Khan Al Ahmar going to school. Heidi Levine / The National

Arabs in Khan Al Ahmar can trace their ancestry as far back as the 1931 census of Palestine, when the tiny Bedouin village in the West Bank had a population of 27. Today 95 per cent of the families living there are refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and eke out a difficult existence, living in makeshift dwellings of wood and corrugated metal. Yet to Israeli settlers, this is prime real estate and the subject of a lengthy court battle to enact a land grab, stripping those who already have little of the few worldly possessions they own. On Thursday, Israel’s supreme court rejected an appeal against an order by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and demanded that the Bedouin living there be moved to a site near a rubbish tip. Israelis plan to level the land and expand settlements to establish permanent control of an area they have illegally encroached upon.

Israel has long been eyeing Khan Al Ahmar, the last Palestinian outpost in the E1 zone in the West Bank. Although only 12 kilometres, it has symbolic and strategic importance for Israeli authorities as it acts as a corridor between the West Bank’s north and south. Authorities have been trying to expel Palestinians since the 1990s to connect the illegal settlement Maale Adumim to Jerusalem. Emboldened by the US’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel is ploughing on unimpeded with its plans to colonise what territory it has not already claimed for its own. Its mercenary approach in Khan Al Ahmar is indicative of its bullying tactics everywhere in the occupied territories. Solar panels offering its residents much-needed electricity were confiscated; a school built with aid is now to be bulldozed.

Millions of Palestinians, rendered stateless by Israel, continue to endure, both within and outside Palestine, unspeakable hardships as a consequence. In Syria’s Yarmouk camp, for instance, their misery was compounded when the camp became a battleground for rebels and pro-regime forces before being overrun by ISIS. Already bereft and robbed of one homeland, many had to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Those who stayed fell victim to hunger, deprivation, disease and violence.

International humanitarian law prohibits the mass forcible relocation of the protected population of an occupied territory under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Yet that has done nothing to stop Israel’s shameless violation of those laws without censure. Mr Lieberman last week announced 3,900 new settler homes will be built in the West Bank, consolidating Israel’s firm grip on Palestinian territory. That will no doubt mean the displacement of more Palestinians, consigned to refugee status as the world watches and does nothing. Their existence signifies the world’s failure to protect those being robbed of what little they have and calls on us to challenge the greed and barbarism that has rendered them refugees.

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