Op-ed: The impending Israeli demolition of a Palestinian village threatens innocent families—and hopes for peace in the Middle East

Michael Berkowitz | Class of 2020

Last week, Israel’s High Court ruled against what appeared to be the last possible legal appeal against the Israeli government’s impending demolition of the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank. As students involved in our campus chapter of J Street U, which fights for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike, we are deeply concerned by this effort to destroy a community and expand Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Destroying this community would mean displacing 180 innocent civilians who are just trying to give a better life to their families. A school built from tires and mud—the only accessible one in the entire surrounding area—educates the children of the village and those of nearby communities.

Beyond the devastation and uncertainty that the demolition would inject into the lives of these already vulnerable people, it would also carry enormous implications for the prospects of a two-state solution: a future in which Israelis and Palestinians live securely and peacefully alongside one another in two states.

As is so often the case in the Middle East, geography is essential here. Khan al-Ahmar is one of the last Palestinian villages in the E1 Zone, which connects Jerusalem to the West Bank. Because of the village’s location, demolishing it is key to the far-right Israeli settler movement’s aim of creating uninterrupted Israeli control in the entire area surrounding Jerusalem. In that scenario, granting control over East Jerusalem to Palestinians as their capital—a necessary condition for creating a Palestinian state under any successful two-state solution agreement—would become extremely difficult in practice.

These demolitions are part of a deliberate attempt by the Israeli ethno-nationalist right to undermine the hopes of a peace process and make the occupation a permanent reality. For years, through policies of demolitions and settlement expansion, the settler movement and its allies in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have strategically broken up Palestinian communities and woven a patchwork of Jewish settlements designed to decrease the political feasibility of a Palestinian state. If this project is successful, the result will be permanent Jewish hegemony over a Palestinian majority in the West Bank. Reflecting this fact, right-wing forces in Israel have celebrated the High Court’s decision on Khan al-Ahmar jubilantly.

Over the past few months, the Israeli government has repeatedly declared its intention to move forward with demolishing the village but had until now been stymied by international backlash and legal challenges. Last April, J Street U helped advocate for 76 Democratic members of Congress to sign a letter urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop the demolitions of Khan al-Ahmar and other nearby villages. The demolitions were temporarily halted.

The legal case for demolitions is based on a rigged system designed by the Israeli government to expand and entrench its occupation of the West Bank. The vast majority of Palestinian villages in Area C aren’t officially recognized by the Israeli government, because they were either constructed before Israel became an occupying presence or, if built later, unable to obtain a permit from the notoriously restrictive Israeli authorities. Thus, the Israeli government deems Palestinian villages “illegal” while encouraging the expansion of Jewish settlements in these territories (which are actually illegal under international law). These policies leave the lives and homes of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in these villages in a permanent state of limbo.

By simply ignoring the historical and current presence of these communities, the right-wing forces in Israel also influence the way we talk about Palestinians. That is to say, we too often don’t. By ignoring the history and simply labeling these villages as “illegal,” the Palestinian narrative is removed from public discourse. In the story the Netanyahu government tells, Khan al-Ahmar is not a community, but rather a series of impermanent illegal structures. The Palestinian people themselves are erased from our dialogue.

As Americans who care deeply about human rights and democratic erosion in Israel, there is a lot we can do. Just this past year, another Palestinian village in the West Bank, Susya, was threatened several times with demolitions, which were canceled at least partially due to international pressure.

Our record of organizing to stop these unjust demolitions shows that when we exercise our power and express our solidarity in unison, our voices can bring about change. Now more than ever, we must keep organizing and redouble our efforts. The High Court’s ruling on September 5 cleared the way for the Israeli government to evict the residents of and demolish Khan al-Ahmar as soon as seven days from the decision. That means we’ve entered the most dangerous time in this process so far—the demolition could take place any minute.

We urge you to take action by calling your local consulate or the Israeli embassy. Standing with targeted communities and demanding justice—whether in the Middle East or here at home— makes all of us more free.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.