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Bedouin village in Negev to be destroyed, Jewish settlement to be built on site

Despite being sent there by the state in the 50s, the residents of Umm al-Hiran face immediate evacuation and destruction of their homes, in order to make way for Hiran, a settlement for national-religious Jews. 

The mosque at the unrecognized Bedouin village Um al-Hiram (photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

Last month, I visited along with a group of other +972 bloggers the village of Umm al-Hiran, in the northeastern part of the Negev, a few kilometers south of the Green Line. Residents were anxiously waiting a decision regarding the fate of their village, which was up for destruction by state authorities.

Umm Al-Hiran is one of roughly 40 unrecognized Bedouin villages, some of them predating the state itself. Those villages are deprived of basic government services, like running water and electricity; they are not entitled to zoning plans, such that every house built in these villages is at risk of demolition.

As it happens, Umm al-Hiram stands on the site of one of 10 new Jewish settlements the Prime Minister’s Office seeks to build in the area. In 2010, a state zoning committee recommended recognizing Umm al-Hiran, but Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office overruled that decision. The new settlement, called Hiran, will offer housing subsidies for national-religious families.

The Bedouin in this village have an especially strong case, since they were sent there by the state of Israel itself. Following the 1948 war, members of the Abu Al-Qian tribe were evicted from their lands in the western Negev (currently the site of Kibbutz Shoval). After settling in a temporary site, they were sent in the mid-50s by the military governor – who was put in charge of the Palestinian population after the war – to the Yatir area, where they currently live.

Last week, Umm Al-Hiran’s 500 residents received grim news: the National Council for Planning voted unanimously against the objections to the plan, filed in their name by Adalah and Bimkon, two NGOs. The Council said that the residents of the village have three options: to move to nearby Horah, to buy lots in the new Hiran (which are well beyond their means), or wait for new zoning plans for them (which will not prevent the immediate destruction of their village).

The state’s preferred option (according to comments given to the press) is to push the Bedouin population to the nearby town of Horah, which is unsuited to the agricultural lifestyle of many of Umm al-Hiran’s residents, and which suffers from a lack of employment opportunities and severe infrastructure shortages. In our visit to Horah, we saw garbage and animal carcasses scattered along the roads at the edge of over-populated town.

“We will not be displaced again,” Salim Abu al-Qian of Umm al-Hiran told us. “We agree to move back to our original lands near Shoval. We are not asking to move the Jews living there. We are ready to share the land.” Abu al-Qian explained that on top of the injustice, moving to Horah would leave his people with no futures and no means for survival.

The seven Bedouin townships are ranked at the bottom of Israel’s socio-economic index.

The construction of Jewish Hiran has been promoted by the “Or” movement – an NGO that promotes and facilitates the Judaization of southern and northern Israel. Or works in collaboration with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency. The Jewish National Fund is also involved in efforts to evacuate Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and other parts of the Negev.

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    1. Danny

      Bibi at the U.N.: We are the sons of light! We are enlightened! We are a force for good!
      Bibi at his government’s weekly meeting: When do we get rid of these subhumans and start developing their land for the chosen people?

      Reply to Comment
    2. If homesteading under prior government sanction exists for Jewish citizens, full rights of equality imply the same for other citizens. Having been placed in their present location 50 odd years ago by an Israeli military governor, the State has lost all warrant to move their forced homestead. Your Declaration of Independence would decide this case easily. But nothing will be done; neither the Court nor the populace seem to want constitutional protections, for fear of limiting the State in perceived perpetual war crisis.

      Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      It doesn’t stop, the Nakba. Ongoing, goal becoming clearer and clearer.

      Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      Is it just me who can’t find news of this development anywhere in the mainstream media?

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Ah, good. Missed that.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Kolumn9

      I love some of the logic. The state told one group of migrating bedouin which at the time consisted of 20 people to move from one place to another. They set up a tent. Then over fifty years they set up another 80 tents and other more permanent dwellings as their population grew. Somehow this initial command to one family to move from one piece of land that the Bedouin did not own to another piece of land that the Bedouin didn’t own is supposed to be the equivalent of issuing land ownership.

      Now the state is obligated to grant them ownership of the land and to allow them to extend the size of their owned holdings indefinitely as they grow in size and dwellings?

      There are at least four Bedouin towns within a 10 km radius of their current encampment which they can move to as they have no ownership claim whatsoever over the land they are currently on.

      Reply to Comment
      • If Jewish, 400 residents at homesteading begun over 50 years ago would have high salience. You neglect to say that they are to be removed for the sake of national-religious settlers, at a time when the demographic threat of such settlers to the Israeli economy is increasing substantially. Wait, did I just say “demographic threat?”

        I love the logic. If YHWH is on your side, push em out. If YHWH is on your side, stay put yourself.

        They do not want to go to the racially pure villages you mention; and, as the piece says in detail, further aggregation at those quite poor villages would not be healthy for anyone.

        Overtly sick and religio-racist.

        Reply to Comment
      • Aaron the Fascist Troll

        I don’t think what the state did several decades ago is all that important here. What’s important is that these people have been living there all these years. Yes, illegally without building permits, but that seems to be just an excuse to kick them off their land. If this were just a legal problem it could be solved quite easily.

        I don’t see any way you could even begin to justify what the government is doing here. That’s taking this account at face value, though. We should also be skeptical of this story, because it and the YNet story did not include a real government response.

        Reply to Comment
        • On prior State action: a ratchet, preventing some State action, needs to develop. If the State placed their ancestors there, then the bar to removal should be quite high. Such reasoning is necessary given the desert of principle which would otherwise bar this removal. It is actually a pretty weak bar on State action, overall.

          Reply to Comment
          • Aaron the Fascist Troll

            I think I agree with you on the state aspect. My point is that even if you accept Kolumn9’s argument that there was no real state permission granted, removing these people is outrageously unjust.

            If the Bedouin had moved there only last month, then yes, the state’s action would have been the salient fact.

            Again, all this is taking the articles at face value, which is dangerous.

            Reply to Comment
          • I’ve been following Noam’s work for some time; I think he is careful in what he says, which doesn’t mean he can’t get things wrong. But the journalists here, mostly, know that half reports can hurt the whole site overall. I think your ethical position right. And, ultimately, only Israelis can change what the State does. The fight within the law is over small things, leading hopefully later to big things.

            Reply to Comment
          • Aaron the Fascist Troll

            I have total respect for Sheizaf’s journalism. He’s one of the main reasons I read this site. But this was apparently taken from the YNet report, and that report didn’t include much of a response from government spokesmen.

            Reply to Comment
      • Vitus

        20 settlers starting with tent and 30 years later there is a guarded town on land that they don’t own. But hey, they are jews and god told them to do it.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Philos

      The 19th century lives on in the Holy Land.
      Also a word on the “nomads” argument. Nomads aren’t wondering vagrants. They travel from one part of THEIR ancestral lands to another part on a seasonal basis. Ask the Sioux, the Mongols, and the Berbers what it means to be nomadic. It means to know every feature of your tribe’s or clan’s lands intimately and from memory alone.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        “It means to know every feature of your tribe’s or clan’s lands intimately and from memory alone.”
        Which is why Bedouin have been of unique practical use to the IDF and the police over the years, enabling them to confidently rely on their tracking abilities to locate infiltrators (in the old sense) and solve a variety of crimes. Forcing them into towns with no lands will put paid to that expertise in a generation.

        Reply to Comment
    7. […] and to make sure that they become irreversible. It is preparing the infrastructure for the next big dispossession project in Umm Hiran: another entire Bedouin village slated for demolition, to be replaced by a Jewish settlement. It […]

      Reply to Comment