By Ray Hanania
When I read as a young child the story of Anne Frank, the little girl whose Jewish family fled their home to escape Nazi persecution and hid in Amsterdam through most of World War II, it frightened me.
Anne wrote about the frightening sounds of the Nazi police sirens and her family’s despair and hopes as heavily-armed German occupation soldiers pounded on doors, threatening those who defended and hid the fleeing Jews with expulsion or worse. Having brutal soldiers strut through your village and home must have been terrifying.
Although Anne’s tragedy played out nearly 80 years ago, you don’t have to look far to find the same terrifying bullying by a military occupation today. Anne’s spirit lives on in the hills, the valleys and the attics of homes in Palestine, where heavily-armed Israeli soldiers pursue, arrest, detain and kill Palestinian civilians.
This week, the dreaded sounds of Israeli military soldiers haunted a small village near East Jerusalem called Khan Al-Ahmar. They warned the 173 Palestinians, including 92 children, that they must flee as their homes would soon be destroyed. More than a dozen protesters have been arrested following clashes with Israeli police that broke out during demonstrations as bulldozers arrived on site.
For the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar, though, persecution by Israel’s military is not new. All of its residents are descendants of Bedouins who lived in a small area of the Negev desert called Tal Arad following Israel’s 1948 conquest. Israel prohibited the Bedouins from roaming the Negev and forced them to settle. But, in 1951, Israel expelled all of them, forcing them to flee at gunpoint to the protection of Jordanian rule in the West Bank. There, they were welcomed by the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar, an area with ties to the “Good Samaritan” of the Christian Bible.
The former Bedouins leased new lands from Palestinians and built new homes, businesses and established schools with the help of Jordan and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
The residents of Khan Al-Ahmar are now facing expulsion again. On May 24, three members of Israel’s racist, anti-Arab Supreme Court — Justices Noam Sohlberg, Anat Baron and Yael Willner — ruled that Israel may demolish all the homes in the village and forcibly transfer the residents, again.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem calls the imminent expulsion a “war crime.” The ruling is a part of a larger campaign of bullying, intimidation and human rights abuses by Israel’s government to cleanse areas of non-Jews to make room for the creation of Jewish-only settlements.
Israel has 65 laws that allow for de-facto discrimination against non-Jews, and has been intentionally negligent in responding to overt racism against non-Jews in major cities, including recently in Afula, where Jews demanded that home sales to Arabs be prohibited because Jews there asserted that they might engage in violence against them.
This will not be the first time heavily-armed Israeli soldiers have bullied and threatened their way into Palestinian areas to force non-Jews to flee to make room for new, illegal Jewish-only settlements. After occupying East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel razed the Moroccan Quarter, expelling hundreds of Muslim families, for the sole purpose of expanding the Wailing Wall into the huge plaza it is today.
The land that non-Jews occupy at Khan Al-Ahmar will be used to build a new Jewish-only settlement as a part of an Israeli “ring of exclusion,” in which Israel has created a chain of Jewish-only settlements surrounding East Jerusalem, cutting it off from the rest of the occupied West Bank. This ring includes many Jewish-only settlements like Gilo, Kfar Adumim, Alon and Nofei Prat.
B’Tselem, whose volunteer members have been persecuted, bullied, arrested, detained and threatened for speaking out against the threats to non-Jews, warned this week: “Israeli police and Civil Administration personnel arrived at Khan Al-Ahmar, the Palestinian community Israel announced it plans to transfer. The troops walked through Khan Al-Ahmar, among the residents’ homes, in what appeared to be preparations for the planned demolition of the community. Residents reported that a police officer told them they would be forcibly removed and that they would be better off if they left ‘voluntarily’.”
The Israelis will destroy every home, every business, every farm, every mosque and every school at Khan Al-Ahmar in order to complete this “ring of exclusion.” They will build 92 new homes for Jewish settlers.
Today the Palestinians of Khan Al-Ahmar are living in a state of fear. Some people say that ethnic cleansing is not the same as murder, arguing that all Israel is doing is stealing their homes, not killing them, because those homes and land are now owned by the government of Israel, not the residents who have lived there since 1951.
Anne Frank’s story is not about life in the death camps or about the atrocities committed by the Nazis at their concentration camps, where 6 million Jews and millions of non-Jews were murdered. Her story is the substance of life during the Holocaust, about the fear and the fright that human beings experience under the oppression of a brutal military regime that hunts them down, expels them, forces them to flee their homes, and destroys all their property.
For the people of Khan Al-Ahmar, the oppression they are experiencing echoes that. Stealing a person’s land, home and possessions, and forcing them to flee in the face of military threats, is in fact a form of death.
I think if Anne were alive today, she would be standing with the civilians of Khan Al-Ahmar, defending their rights against this atrocity. Their lives are being killed. Their existence is being erased.