By Albin Hillert*
Due date for demolition of Khan al Ahmar was 1 October. Though the Bedouin community still stands, the feeling is the bulldozers could show up anytime.
International accompaniers from the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI) offer protective presence to the community, night-time as well as day, as they bear witness and support life under occupation, in efforts for just peace for all people in Palestine and Israel.
It is late evening in Khan al Ahmar. Located on a small hill in the E1 area of the East Jerusalem periphery, Khan al Ahmar is made up largely from families of Palestinian refugees from 1948.
In May 2018, the Israel Supreme Court approved the Israeli Defense Minister’s order to demolish Khan al Ahmar. For many in Khan al Ahmar, it would not be the first time, as the village is home to a few dozen families from the Jahalin tribe, expelled from their home in the Negev to the West Bank in the 1950s.
Demolition of Khan al Ahmar would pave the way for nearby Israeli settlements to expand, causing further separation of Palestinians in the southern and the northern parts of the West Bank, and so more than 500 people from the surrounding area gathered to spend the night in Khan al Ahmar on 1 October, when demolition was due. Days later, hundreds are still gathered, in solidarity and to bear witness, should the demolition come to be take place.
Three ecumenical accompaniers from WCC-EAPPI have arrived for an overnight stay in Khan al Ahmar. They are there to ensure international presence, accurate documentation, and witness if or when the demolition takes place. While the situation is anything but certain, the EAs remain committed to their task, as the approach seems simply to be, “if we are needed here, we are here.”
Two men share a simple meal by the entrance to the Khan al Ahmar school building. The school was built in 2009, and until today serves children aged 6-15 both from Khan al Ahmar and four other, nearby communities.
Children’s handprints decorate the wall of the school. In face of demolition, the school’s 150+ children would need to seek other ways of accessing education, the majority of them most likely in Jericho, some 20 kilometres away.
Though not its official name, the school is known in the area as “the Tire School”. A staircase made up of old car tires leads the way to the school building – itself partly built from tires and mud.
Khan al Ahmar being a mainly Muslim community, evening prayer caps off the day under the large tent giving shelter to those gathered to spend the night.
As night then falls, men, women and children lay down on simple mattresses to rest through the night, not knowing how long the community will be allowed to remain in Khan al Ahmar.
Blog post: Khan Al Ahmar Bedouin community strives for justice amid grave daily challenges (EAPPI blog of 20 July 2018)
WCC condemns intended demolition in Bedouin village (WCC press release of 13 July 2018)
*Albin Hillert is communication officer for the World Council of Churches