As I write these words, I await Israel’s destruction of the only home and community that I have known in my 52 years of life. The 180 residents of my West Bank village, Khan al-Ahmar — men, women and children — will soon be forcibly removed from our land in order to expand Israel’s illegal settlements. Our homes will be demolished and even our elementary school, built with love out of nothing but tires and mud, will be leveled.
My fondest memories are of my childhood in Khan al-Ahmar. I would often make trips with my friends to a nearby valley full of natural springs and ponds. We would take food and tea with us, riding on donkeys to swim, catch fish, and enjoy ourselves. Israel stopped us from visiting the valley years ago, and now it wants us to leave our homes altogether and move once again.
Even though Khan al-Ahmar was established in 1952, long before Israel’s army occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it cannot be found on a map. My parents came to Khan al-Ahmar after being forcibly removed in 1948 from our village in the desert in Arad, after the establishment of the State of Israel. Like other Palestinian cities and towns, Israel destroyed our village in order to make way for Jewish Israelis. We were thrown off our land and told to fend for ourselves.
So we made our way to Khan al-Ahmar, a desert area nestled between two major water sources, in order to survive.
Khan al-Ahmar, then under Jordanian control, was allowed to thrive, with the Jordanians recognizing our rights. But with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967, everything changed.
Although we have lived in Khan al-Ahmar for 67 years, Israel has never recognized our right to be here. We have been forced to live in the most rudimentary housing — tents — without access to running water or electricity. Our attempts to survive in the desert, by using solar panels for electricity and pumps for water, have met with Israeli crackdowns, with the army confiscating our means of subsistence.
Israel even built a major highway for Israelis through Khan al-Ahmar, making it impossible for visitors to come, as well as emergency services needed to assist the community.
As a community activist and leader, it is my duty to ensure the safety and security of my community. When the Israeli army first came to demolish homes in Khan al-Ahmar, I was advised to seek approval for the erection of our tents. I did just that.
Yet as with other Palestinian communities in the West Bank under direct Israeli military rule, Israel rejected our applications. In fact, less than two percent of Palestinian applications for construction are granted Israeli approval and those homes built without permission are routinely destroyed by Israel.
When three children from Khan al-Ahmar were killed along Israel’s highway while attempting to walk to the closest school more than eight miles away, I immediately sought Israel’s approval for the construction of a school so students would not be forced to make the risky trek. Even this request was denied. So instead of building a proper school with bricks and mortar, we were forced to build it with tires and mud.
Today, the school serves 185 children from five neighboring communities and has afforded schoolgirls — many of whom were too afraid to make the dangerous daily journey — the opportunity to receive an education.
These kids shouldn’t have to live in fear that their school will be destroyed. That Israel would demolish the community’s one hope is devastating. It speaks volumes to what Israel’s plans are really about.
After fighting in court for nearly a decade, Israel’s High Court recently approved the requests of the Israeli army and settlers to destroy my community. Yet while demanding that Palestinians obtain building permits, which are rarely granted, Israel has turned a blind eye to Israeli settler theft of land.
To the contrary, the Israeli government has encouraged Israeli Jews to live in settlements in violation of international law, including two large ones near Khan al-Ahmar.
These settlements have running water and electricity and even swimming pools and their residents do not have to worry about being evicted from their homes as we do.
Today there are more than 100 illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and more than 100 so-called settlement “outposts” built in violation of even Israeli law. Instead of demolishing those structures, Israel grants them retroactive approval, just as it recently did with Havat Gilad.
In reality, Israel only enforces its laws against us Palestinians; and never against the settlers. With the recent passage of the nation-state law, which directs the government to encourage and promote Jewish settlement, including in the occupied territories, we can expect more Palestinians to be forced from their homes, and their communities destroyed.
To the outside observer, my home may not be much and indeed it is not fancy. But, as simple as it is, it is my castle and I am determined to remain in it. I have been to Washington and have seen the White House, but for me, personally, I would rather live in my bedouin tent.
I’ve spent my life working to make sure my family and community have a livable village with electricity, water, and a school for our children. All we want are our basic human rights and to be able to live in freedom without being forced from our homes. Now, when the children of Khan al-Ahmar ask me whether they will be forced to live in the street, I have no answer.
I know that Israel’s destruction of my community is a war crime — every lawyer, the UN and every diplomatic representative I have met has said so. Even 84 members of the US Congress have spoken out in support of Khan al-Ahmar, urging Israel to not demolish our homes.
The real question is whether the world will now step up and take action to help us, or whether they will continue to allow Israel to destroy our homes and lives, committing war crimes with impunity.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the year Khan al-Ahmar was established. We regret the error.
Eid Jahalin is a Bedouin farmer, community activist, and resident of Khan al-Ahmar.