The untold story of why Israel wants to demolish Khan al-Ahmar

On September 4, the Israeli High Court of Justice gave the green light for the demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar and of the so-called “rubber tires school”, built by the Italian NGO, Vento di Terra. The school provides educational opportunities for 180 children from the Bedouin village and from adjacent villages as well.

A few weeks earlier, on August 10, Israeli warplanes bombed and completely destroyed al-Mishal Cultural Center in Gaza. Among its many activities, the center was used to help children cope with trauma resulting from war-inflicted physical and psychological scars.

Targeting of Palestinian educational and cultural institutions – through bombings, demolition or property confiscation – has been a regular Israeli policy for many years. While Israel often offers the clichéd explanation, that such destruction is carried out in the name of “security”, facts demonstrate that there is no basis for this claim.

In fact, Israel demolishes and destroys based on a completely different logic which dates back to Israel’s own creation over the ruins of hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948.

The Khan al-Ahmar Model

The Palestinian village of Khan Al-Ahmar, which is facing imminent Israeli demolition, is a perfect illustration of this horrific and lingering reality.

The strategic location of Khan Al-Ahmar makes the story behind the Israeli demolition of the peaceful village unique amidst the ongoing destruction of Palestinian homes and lives throughout besieged Gaza and Occupied West Bank.

Throughout the years, Khan Al-Ahmar, once part of an uninterrupted Palestinian physical landscape has grown increasingly isolated. Decades of Israeli colonization of East Jerusalem and the West Bank left the village trapped between massive and vastly expanding Israeli colonial projects: Ma’ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim, among others.

The village, its adjacent school and 173 residents are the last obstacle facing the E1 Zone project, an Israeli plan that aims to link illegal Jewish colonies in Occupied East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem, thus cutting off East Jerusalem completely from its Palestinian environs in the West Bank.

Like the Neqab (Negev) village of Al-Araqib, which has been demolished by Israel and rebuilt by its residents 133 times, Khan Al-Ahmar residents are facing armed soldiers and military bulldozers with their bare chests and whatever solidarity they are able to obtain.

Despite the particular circumstances and unique historical context of Khan Al-Ahmar, however, the story of this village is but a chapter in a trajectory of tragedies that has extended over the course of seventy years.

Israel is engaging in a seemingly endless campaign of erasing everything Palestinian, because the latter, from an Israeli perspective, represents an ‘existential threat’ to Israel’s ‘Jewish identity’

Ramzy Baroud

Erasure of Palestine

It would be an error to discuss the destruction of Khan al-Ahmar, or any other Palestinian village outside the larger context of demolition that has stood at the heart of Israel’s particular breed of settler colonialism.

It is true that other colonial powers used destruction of homes and properties, and the exile of entire communities as a tactic to subdue rebellious populations. The British Mandate government in Palestine used the demolition of homes as a ‘deterrence’ tactic against Palestinians who dared rebel against injustice throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s, till Israel took over in 1948.

Yet, the Israeli strategy is far more convoluted than a mere ‘deterrence’. It is now carved in the Israeli psyche that Palestine must be completely destroyed in order for Israel to exist. Therefore, Israel is engaging in a seemingly endless campaign of erasing everything Palestinian, because the latter, from an Israeli perspective, represents an ‘existential threat’ to Israel’s ‘Jewish identity’.

This can only be justified with an irrational degree of hatred and fear that has accumulated throughout generations to the point that it now forms a collective Israeli psychosis for which Palestinians continue to pay a heavy price. The repeated destruction of Gaza is symptomatic of this Israeli obsession.

Israel is a “country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild - and this is a good thing,” was the official explanation offered by Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister in January 2009 to justify its country’s war on the blockaded Gaza Strip. The Israel ‘going wild’ strategy has led to the destruction of 22,000 homes, schools and other facilities during one of Israel’s deadliest wars on the Strip.

A few years later, in the summer of 2014, Israel went ‘wild’ again, leading to an even greater destruction and loss of lives. Israel’s mass demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza, and everywhere else, preceded Hamas by decades.

In fact, it has nothing to do with the method of resistance that Palestinians utilize in their struggle against Israel. Israel’s demolishing of Palestine – whether the actual physical structures or the idea, history, narrative, and even street names – is entirely an Israeli decision.

Numbers don’t lie

A quick scan of historical facts demonstrates that Israel demolished Palestinian homes and communities in diverse political and historical contexts, where Israel’s ‘security’ was not in the least a factor. Nearly 600 Palestinian towns, villages and localities were destroyed between 1947 and 1948, and nearly 800,000 Palestinians were exiled to make room for the establishment of Israel.

According to the Land Research Center (LRC), Israel had destroyed 5,000 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem alone since it occupied the city in 1967, leading to the permanent exile of nearly 70,000 people. Coupled with the fact that nearly 200,000 Jerusalemites were driven out during the Nakba, ‘the Catastrophe’ of 1948, and the ongoing and gradual ethnic cleansing, the Holy City has been in a constant state of destruction since the establishment of Israel.

In fact, between 2000 and 2017, over 1,700 Palestinian homes were demolished, displacing nearly 10,000 people. This is not a policy of “deterrence” but of erasure – the eradication of Palestinian lives, livelihoods, sense of belonging and culture.

Gaza and Jerusalem are not unique examples either. According to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD’s) report last December, since 1967 “nearly 50,000 Palestinian homes and structures have been demolished – displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and affecting the livelihoods of thousands of others.”

Combined with the destruction of Palestinian villages upon the establishment of Israel, and the demolition of Palestinian homes inside Israel itself, ICAHD asserts the total number of homes destroyed since 1948 to be more than 100,000.

In fact, as the group itself acknowledges, the above figure is rather conservative. In Gaza alone, and in the last 10 years which witnessed three major Israeli wars, nearly 50,000 homes and structures were reportedly destroyed. So why does Israel destroy with consistency, impunity and no remorse?

For the same reason that it passed laws to change historic street names from Arabic to Hebrew. For the same reason it recently passed the racist nation-state law, elevating everything Jewish and completely ignoring and downgrading the existence of the indigenous Palestinians, their language and their culture that go back millennia.

Israel demolishes, destroys and pulverizes because in the racist mindset of Israeli rulers, there can be no room between the Sea and the River but for Jews; where the Palestinians - oppressed, colonized and dehumanized - don’t factor in the least in Israel’s ruthless calculations.

This is not merely a question of Khan Al-Ahmar - it is a question of the very survival of the Palestinian people, threatened by a racist state that has been allowed to ‘go wild’ for 70 years, untamed and without repercussions.
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Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

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