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With Plans To Demolish A West Bank Village, Israel Orders Palestinians To Vacate


A small Palestinian village in the West Bank is in the spotlight. Israel has slated the village for demolition and ordered villagers to leave by tomorrow. The United Nations and European Union are calling on Israel not to demolish it. They say the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at stake.

NPR's Daniel Estrin is at the village, and he's with us now. Daniel, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: Where is this village, and why does Israel want to demolish it?

ESTRIN: Well, the village is named Khan al-Ahmar, and it's off a major West Bank highway. It's a very strategic spot because it's right outside East Jerusalem. And the European Union says if Palestinians are cleared out of this area and Israeli homes are built here - as there are plans to build a new settlement area nearby - that could cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank geographically, meaning it could cut the future Palestinian capital from the rest of the land the Palestinians demand for their future state.

They're part of a Bedouin tribe that was displaced from the desert in Israel many decades ago. And they relocated here in the early '50s. And their village, their encampment here is, well, according to Israel illegal - was built without permits. There is no water, no electricity hookup here. Israel says it's also unsafe because it's right next to a highway. And so authorities say they have prepared another place elsewhere in the West Bank for villagers to go. It'll have water, an electricity hookup. And Israel has ordered villagers to go there.

MARTIN: And what do the people who live there say about that?

ESTRIN: Well, villagers here have been fighting this in the Israeli court system for about a decade. And they say the place that Israel has prepared is near a garbage dump. They do not want to move there. They want the right to stay where they are, to build, to develop where they've been for decades. Today I visited one of the villagers, Mahmoud Abu Dahouq (ph). He led me into his shack. He showed me the wooden beam that's collapsing from his home. He says Israeli authorities prevent him from bringing in materials to repair and to rebuild. And here's what he said.

MAHMOUD ABU DAHOUQ: (Through interpreter) If they want us to develop, if they want our life to become better, give us the electricity here. Give us the water here. I am 52 years old. I was born here. We want to stay here. We don't want to go there.

ESTRIN: And even though the Israeli order is for the villagers to be out of here tomorrow, the village isn't expected to be demolished tomorrow. It's a Jewish holiday here. And the villagers are still here. I'm sitting in a kind of activist tent right next to the school. People here say they believe demolition is inevitable. It's a matter of days. And here's what the village council head, Eid Abu Dahouq (ph), told me.

EID ABU DAHOUQ: I'm taking my children and my wife, stopping before the - in front of the bulldozer.

ESTRIN: What he's saying there is when Israel comes with their bulldozers, he and his wife and kids will stand in front of it.

MARTIN: It sounds as though this is a very, you know, emotional and potentially explosive issue. I mean, what do we expect in the next couple of days?

ESTRIN: Well, speaking to authorities here, I understand that we're not going to be seeing demolition tomorrow or the next day. And even though the residents here seem resigned to the fact that this demolition is going to happen, there is very vocal international opposition. And for years, Israel hasn't carried out demolition. It's made its way through the courts, and the final say is with Israel. We really don't know.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Daniel Estrin in the West Bank. Daniel, thank you so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.