Shaiya Rothberg

We must not destroy Khan al-Ahmar

The looming destruction of the Palestinian village Khan al-Ahmar by the State of Israel exposes Israeli policy on the West Bank for what it is: The systematic domination and dispossession of Palestinians in order to settle Israeli Jews.

The blatant discrimination is perhaps most obvious in land policy. Israel has allocated 99.7% of “public land” on the West Bank to Jews. This systematic discrimination is exacerbated by the fact that Israel more than doubled the amount of “public land” on the West Bank since 1967 through a process that unfairly ignored the rights of Palestinian farmers. Additionally, Israel expropriated privately owned Palestinian land for “military purposes” but then transferred the land to Jewish settlers. Beyond these official policies, vast amounts of privately owned Palestinian land have simply been stolen by settlements (often with state assistance): According to Israeli Civil Administration maps, 21% of built up areas in settlements and 29% of Jewish agricultural land sit on stolen privately owned Palestinian land. The ongoing theft of Palestinian land has not abated in recent years but has increased.

The same government bodies which now plan to destroy Khan al-Ahmar for the “public good” are responsible for this explicitly discriminatory land policy. West Bank Palestinians have no representation in these bodies. Israel not only refuses access to public land but also seeks to uproot Palestinian communities (often in order to replace them with Jewish settlers) and therefore denies building permits to Palestinians even on land that the Civil Administration defines as privately owned by Palestinians. Since 2006, Israel has demolished more than 1,360 Palestinian homes, leaving 6,115 people homeless. More than 11,000 demolition orders are still in the pipeline, causing thousands of Palestinian families to live in fear of future demolitions, like those in Khan Al-Ahmar.

These policies of discrimination in land, planning and home demolitions are part of a larger pattern of victimization. Palestinians on the West Bank are subject to separate laws and courts from those applied to their Jewish neighbors, who are represented in the government and enjoy civil rights. For example, unlike Jews in the same area, Palestinians do not have the right to assembly or the right to free speech. They are subject to continuous violence at the hands of Israeli Jews without adequate military or police protection. Additional basic human rights of Palestinians, such as freedom of movement and access to basic services (clean water, adequate health care, education, roads and electricity) are also systematically violated.

Israeli treatment of the Jahalin who live in Khan Al-Ahmar is consistent with these policies. Upon conquering the region in 1967, Israel encountered the Jahalin already living there after being expelled from the Negev (as internal IDF documents make clear). There is no disagreement that both international and Israeli law required government authorities to serve the needs of this population.  But they did not do so. Instead, Israel used the ample “public land” in the area to build Maalei Adumim and the other settlements in the region for Israeli Jews complete with permits and all necessary services. In parallel, IDF documents make clear that Israel sought ways to rid the area of Palestinians.

How does Israel’s High Court of Justice allow these policies? Justice Solberg’s majority opinion, allowing the destruction of Khan Al-Ahmar, is illustrative. He begins (par. 50) by declaring that it has already been established in an earlier decision that the Palestinian buildings in question are “illegal”. An examination of the earlier decision reveals that the court refused to address the legality of Israel’s obviously discriminatory policy according to which planning and permits are authorized for Israeli Jews but denied Palestinians. Instead, the court opined (par. 8) that even if such discrimination existed and was in fact the reason that permits were denied Palestinians, the buildings would still be “illegal”.

On this foundation, Justice Solberg concludes (par. 51) that the only matter before the court is whether there is a legal basis to delay or expedite the state’s legitimate demolition orders. He concludes there is no basis. What of five decades of discrimination so blatant that we now stand to expel the remnants of the Palestinian population of this region from in-between settlements consisting of thousands of “legal” structures built for Israeli Jews? The justices declined to address this question. And thus, through sticking their heads in the sand, Israel’s often truly impressive High Court of Justice offers its stamp of legitimacy to the destruction of innocent people’s homes due to their ethnic-national identity as Palestinians.

If we love Israel, and if we are committed to Judaism, then we must speak out against these crimes. Their brutal injustice cannot be denied. Nor can we deny the central role that Jewish identity plays in justifying these immoral and self-destructive policies. The ugly violent shadow of Jewish supremacism is wielding the power of the State of Israel to victimize innocent people and to desecrate God’s name. Faithfulness to God – and loyalty to Israel – require that we oppose it.

About the Author
Shaiya Rothberg lives with his wife in Jerusalem Al-Quds. He is a teacher of Jewish Thought and a human rights activist. Shaiya holds a PhD from Hebrew University in Jewish Thought and a B.A. in Jewish Philosophy and Talmud from Bar-Ilan University. He made aliyah in 1988 and served as a soldier and officer in the I.D.F. Shaiya's writing and teaching focus on the transformative potential of Jewish tradition.
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