Khan Al-Ahmar awaits its fate as Israel continues to ‘go wild’
Like vultures, Israeli soldiers descended on Khan Al-Ahmar last week, recreating a menacing scene that the residents of this small Palestinian village, located east of Jerusalem, are all too familiar with.
The strategic location of Khan Al-Ahmar makes the story behind the imminent Israeli demolition of the peaceful village unique amid the ongoing destruction of Palestinian homes and lives throughout besieged Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
Over 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 has left it trapped between massive Israeli colonial projects, including Ma’ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim.
The unfortunate 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 completely cutting off East Jerusalem from its Palestinian environs in the West Bank.
The story of this village is a mere chapter in the protracted narrative of a tragedy that has extended over 70 years
Like the Negev village of Al-Araqib, which has been demolished by Israel and rebuilt by its residents 133 times, Khan Al-Ahmar’s residents are facing armed soldiers and military bulldozers with their bare chests and whatever local and international 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 a mere chapter in the protracted narrative of a tragedy that has extended over the course of 70 years.
It would be a mistake 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 the destruction of homes and properties, and the exile of whole 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, before 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, from an Israeli viewpoint, it represents an existential threat.
This is precisely why Israel sees the natural demographic growth among Palestinians as a threat to Israel’s “Jewish identity.” This can only be justified with an irrational degree of hate 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 psychosis.
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 the war on the blockaded Gaza Strip. The Israel “going wild” strategy 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 even greater destruction and loss of life.
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 an Israeli decision through and through.
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. Hundreds of 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, Israel has 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 almost 200,000 Jerusalemites were driven out during the Nakba — the “catastrophe” of 1948 — and the ongoing slow ethnic cleansing, the Holy City has been in a constant state of destruction since the establishment of Israel.
In fact, between 2000 and 2017, more than 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 culture.
Gaza and Jerusalem are not the only examples. According to an Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD) report published 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 puts the total number of homes destroyed since 1948 at more than 100,000.
In fact, as the group itself acknowledges, this figure is quite conservative. In Gaza alone in the last 10 years, amid three major Israeli wars, nearly 50,000 homes and structures have reportedly been destroyed.
So why does Israel destroy with consistency, impunity and no remorse? It is for the same reason that it allows historic street names to be changed from Arabic to Hebrew. And 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, which goes back millennia.
Israel demolishes, destroys and pulverizes because, in the racist mindset of its rulers, there can be no room between the sea and the river but for Jews. The Palestinians — oppressed, colonized and dehumanized — don’t factor in the least in Israel’s ruthless calculations.
This is not just a question of Khan Al-Ahmar. It is a question of the very survival of the Palestinian people, who are threatened by a racist state that has been allowed to “go wild” for 70 years, untamed and without repercussions.
• 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. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud