Two years ago I visited Khan al-Ahmar in the Palestinian West Bank with Caabu and Medical Aid for Palestinians. Last week, I returned with B’Tselem to show my support for the Bedouin community there in the face of an imminent threat to demolish the village by the Government of Israel.
The village of Khan al-Ahmar is home to a Bedouin community and has been for decades. They’ve built a community around the land and a wonderful little school made from tyres and mud. The school is attended by over a hundred children – not only from the village, but also from surrounding towns and villages, because of the quality of education provided there. I spoke to a teacher who travels in every day because she’s so committed to giving the children a great education – including the many girls who attend – and I spoke to two boys who travel in from Jericho because the class sizes are smaller and they think this will help them to get a good education to achieve their ambitions of becoming a mechanic and an electrician.
The Israeli Government has made a number of arguments for the demolition and relocation of this village: lack of planning permission and proximity to a busy highway chief among them. However, the highway was built after the village, the Government grants so few planning permissions to Palestinians each year and the proposed new site for the village is also next to a busy road. It is also too far for many children to travel to school and lacks land for farming.
There’s another reason why the future of this village really matters. It is situated in an area known as E1 – just outside East Jerusalem in what would, in all likelihood, be the State of Palestine under a negotiated two state solution. The continuing trend of the demolition of Palestinian homes and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank is making a two state solution look more and more distant. Settlement expansion in E1 presents an existential crisis to the two state solution. It should be a red line for the international community.
That’s why the proposed demolition of Khan al-Ahmar has been condemned by our Government and EU member states. The UN warns that forced displacement of the Bedouin villagers could constitute a war crime under the Geneva convention. If the demolition goes ahead, there must be consequences. Britain and our European allies need to decide quickly what those consequences will be. Failure to respond will give the green light to further demolitions and settlement expansion in the West Bank.
International pressure has given the villagers of Khan al-Ahmar hope. Two years ago, the village was eerily quiet. A teachers’ strike in the Palestinian Authority has closed the school for the day and the villagers were going about their daily routines of farming their land and caring for their children. Two years later, and the school was filled with excitement as a group of children were heading into Jerusalem with ‘Save My School’ placards to coincide with the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. There can be no better ambassadors for this community.
We owe it to these children to save Khan al-Ahmar, but also to secure for them a future filled with hope and possibility, rather than conflict and occupation. We know that the responsibility for ending this conflict doesn’t rest with Israel alone, but the future of Khan al-Ahmar now rests solely in the hands of Israel’s Government. Many of us have given up all hope that Benjamin Netanyahu genuinely believes in a two state solution, particularly given the extremist complexion of his governing coalition and its policies. He could yet prove us wrong. Saving Khan al-Ahmar would be a good start.
Wes Streeting is the Labour MP for Ilford North