Israel court approves demolition of Bedouin village to make way for Jews

Palestinians in Umm al-Hiran are resisting Israel’s attempts to erase their village.

Yotam Ronen ActiveStills

Israel’s high court ruled on 5 May that the government can evict Palestinian residents of Umm al-Hiran — a Bedouin village in the Naqab (Negev) region of present-day Israel — and build a Jewish-only colony in its place.

Although the estimated 700 residents of Umm al-Hiran carry Israeli citizenship and were placed in the village by military decree in 1956, the court “ruled the land belongs to the state and the Bedouins have no legal rights to it,” Israeli daily Haaretz reports.

“The state is the owner of the lands in dispute, which were registered in its name in the framework of the arrangement process; the residents have acquired no rights to the land but have settled them [without any authorization],” Justice Elyakim Rubinstein ruled in the opinion, Haaretz adds.

With the support of Adalah, a Haifa-based legal center for Palestinians in Israel, local residents of Umm al-Hiran filed a petition against their eviction orders back in November 2013. They argued that displacing them in order to pave the way for a Jewish community — which will be named Hiran — is a clear violation of their rights.

Amjad Iraqi, an international advocacy coordinator at Adalah, explained that the court’s decision is signficant because it is the first time it openly stated that Palestinian citizens of Israel can be removed from their homes and land “for the sole purpose of housing Jewish citizens.” 

“The court agreed that there was nothing illegal about the Bedouin families’ presence on those lands,” he told The Electronic Intifada, “but the court still gave preference to the ‘right’ of the state to retake the lands, than on the rights of the people who live there today.”

“Racist and discriminatory plans”

The court’s ruling, Iraqi continued, was a signal to the government that “it can carry out the same racist and discriminatory plans in many other unrecognized villages existing on what it claims to be ‘state lands,’ without fearing the court’s intervention.”

“As a result, thousands of Bedouin citizens are now in even greater danger of imminent displacement, with Israeli law turned even further against them,” he concluded. 

Like the dozens of other “unrecognized villages” in the Naqab, Haaretz notes: “The government has never denied that the residents were moved to Umm al-Hiran by state authorities.”

The planned Jewish community to be built atop Umm al-Hiran will include 2,500 housing units for religious Jews, the right-wing Times of Israel reports

Their eviction is part of a broader process of pushing the indigenous Palestinian Bedouin population of the Naqab off their land.

An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship and live in cities, towns and villages across the country. According to Adalah, they suffer from more than 50 discriminatory laws that stifle their political expression and limit their access to state resources, including land.

Demolitions continue

In the Naqab, tens of thousands of Palestinians live in unrecognized villages and are denied basic services such as electricity, water and education, among others.

They have endured housing demolitions and forcible displacement for decades. In December 2013, as protests engulfed the country, Israel was forced to shelve the Prawer Plan, legislation designed to uproot them and place them into planned townships.

Although the plan was formally scrapped, home demolitions have continued unabated. Two weeks ago, bulldozers rolled through al-Araqib, another Naqab village, for the 83rd time since 2010.

The demolitions, however, are not limited to the Naqab. As The Electronic Intifada reported, three homes were recently destroyed in the unrecognized village of Dahmash. The village is situated between Lydd and Ramle, cities in the central region of present-day Israel.

Dahmash is also slated to be razed in its entirety.

A home demolition was also carried out last month in Kufr Kana, a Palestinian village in the Galilee region.

Day of Rage

Palestinians in Israel have pushed back by holding strikes and protesting across the country. Most recently, thousands gathered in Tel Aviv to condemn the government’s destruction of homes and land grabs in Palestinian communities.

In late March, Palestinian legislators in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, led a four-day march from the Naqab to Israeli President Reuben Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem.

“The reality in the unrecognized villages is unbearable, and it is our responsibility to struggle together in order to bring about real change for these citizens,” Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List — a coalition of Palestinian-majority parties in the Knesset — told the marchers, as +972 Magazine reported.

Palestinians in the Naqab also suffer from frequent police violence. In January, Palestinians in Israel held a nationwide general strike after Sami al-Jaar, 22, was fatally shot by police as they clashed with youth across the street from his home.

Just days later, police attacked mourners as they marched through al-Jaar’s hometown of Rahat during his funeral. Sami Ziadna, 42, died as a result of excessive tear gas inhalation.

In response to the court’s ruling on Umm al-Hiran, activists have called for a Day of Rage later this month. “The ruling is racist and disastrous for an already disadvantaged population,” Talab Abu Arar, a Palestinian Knesset member, told Haaretz.

“We intend to stand by the [Umm al-Hiran] families,” Abu Arar remarked. 


Patrick Strickland

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Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor at The Electronic Intifada. He is presently working on his first book for the London-based publishing house Zed Books. See his in-depth coverage for EI.