All that remains for the worried Palestinian residents of Khan al-Ahmar is something to do.

After Westbank had lost its last legal protection against demolition last week, the Israeli forces were able to set off every day to tear down the few dozen huts in the desert community and an Italian-funded school building made from recycled tires.

Some maintain the hope that Israel could be deterred by an unavoidable international outcry over the destruction of the community. Large European countries have warned that the flattening of Khan al-Ahmar poses a serious threat to the already dwindling prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The seemingly huge international attention given to the tiny community is related to its strategic location in the center of the West Bank. It is an area considered indispensable for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, conquered by Israel in 1967.

Israel has presented the struggle for Khan al-Ahmar as a mere zone conflict. Critics of the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say that the village has become a symbol of what they call the continued expulsion of Palestinians to make room for Israeli settlements.

As the demolition looms, dozens of activists, including foreigners, spend nights in Khan al-Ahmar to show support. They sleep on mattresses that are spread out under green tarpaulins and cover the front yard of the Italian-funded school.

"We can not prevent the demolition," said Mohammed Abu Hilweh, 30, of Jerusalem, as he stretched out on a mattress one last night and settled for the night.

"But we can resist, delay and when it happens, we can rebuild," he said.

Khan al-Ahmar is a few tens of meters from a four-lane highway that runs from east to west, effectively cutting the West Bank in half and connecting Jerusalem with the Jordan Valley.

The highway is also flanked by several Israeli settlements, including Maaleh Adumim, the third largest of the West Bank. A new settlement on the Maaleh Adumim highway, designated as E1 by Israeli planners, would effectively block the remaining land link between Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital. Khan al-Ahmar is located just outside the area designated for E1, which had previously been largely frozen under US pressure.

Hanan Ashrawi, a high-ranking Palestinian official, called the planned demolition an "obvious attempt" by Israel to separate the Palestinians from Jerusalem. "It is absolutely necessary that the international community intervene," she said.

For the last 25 years, the international community has favored the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as the best hope for peace. But these hopes are fading fast.

Unlike his predecessors, President Donald Trump, who has promised a new peace plan, has refused to support the two-state solution while recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

The US State Department has said little about the impending demolition and referred reporters for details to the Israeli government.

By contrast, European governments were very open.

"The demolition of this small Palestinian village would not just affect a local community," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini recently told the European Parliament. "It would also be a blow to the viability of the state of Palestine and the possibility of a two-state solution."

Regardless, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK warned in a rare joint statement that the demolition would have "very serious" consequences.

For now, Israel seems to continue to evolve. After a decade-long dispute, Israel's Supreme Court rejected a final appeal earlier this month. At the end of last week, a demolition moratorium has expired.

Israel has not announced a date for the demolition, but earlier this week, it dismantled five corrugated ironworks near Khan al-Ahmar, which had been erected a few days earlier in a show of defiance by villagers. Troops returned on Friday with heavy equipment and removed mounds set up for slow demolition. Two Palestinians and one American-French law professor were arrested.

The 180 residents of Khan al-Ahmar are members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, who were expelled from the South Negev Desert since Israel's founding in 1948. The United Nations granted them refugee status.

Shani Sasson, a spokeswoman for COGAT, the Israeli defense organization responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, said Israel offered to relocate the villagers.

She said that the tribe is perched on a land that is not safe to live and that the Israeli government has prepared an alternative site just a few miles away with sewage treatment plants and access to water and electricity. She said Israel has invested more than $ 2 million in the relocation project.

"We do them a service," she said. "That's not against her, that's for her."

Residents confirm that life in their village is hard. But they say there is no place they would rather live. They say that Israel is trying to get them to a place that is too full for their livestock and is near a wastewater treatment plant and a garbage dump.

"We Bedouins like life in the desert," said Yousef Abu Dahouq, a resident of Khan al-Ahmar, who was sitting on a wooden bench near the school drinking tea and smoking a hookah. "We live side by side, support each other."

The Palestinians and Europeans see a deeper Israeli agenda.

Khan al-Ahmar is in the 60 percent of the West Bank, known as Area C, and remains under total Israeli control, according to preliminary 1990s peace agreements that appear to be closed due to diplomatic paralysis. The remainder of the territory is administered by a Palestinian Autonomous Government.

Zone C is home to about 400,000 Israeli settlers and an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Palestinians. Israel strongly limits Palestinian development and supports and promotes dozens of settlements in the region.

The EU has attempted to set up numerous structures for Palestinians in Zone C, only to find that they have been demolished or rejected for lack of permits. Khan al-Ahmar's Italian-funded school was built from car tires because a building permit could not be granted.

"This is the situation on the ground: new Israeli settlements are being built while Palestinian homes in the same area are demolished," Mogherini said. "This will only aggravate a one-state reality, with unequal rights for both peoples, eternal occupation and conflict."

The village chief Eid Khamis promised to quarrel.

"They want to kick us out and build settlements, and we will not allow that," he said. "It is our country."


Federman reported from Jerusalem.


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