Demonstrators march outside Be’er Sheva court, calling on the government not to evacuate two unrecognized Bedouin villages.
Text by Yael Marom, photos by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org
Over 300 demonstrators marched outside the Be’er Sheva District Court Thursday against the planned demolition of two unrecognized Bedouin villages, Umm al-Hiran and Atir, in Israel’s Negev Desert. Two villages are slated to be replaced by a Jewish-only community and a Jewish National Fund forest, respectively
The protesters, Arabs and Jews, accompanied by members of Knesset from the Joint List and Meretz’s Issawi Freij, chanted “We will not move from Atir and Umm al-Hiran,” and “the Negev belongs to all of us — Jews and Arabs.”
Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh told the protesters: “We stand with the residents of the unrecognized villages and say to the government that we will not move from Umm al-Hiran and Atir! Evacuating an Arab community in order to replace it with a Jewish one is a red line and an escalation in the state’s harsh treatment of the Arab minority.
“We will not let this happen,” Odeh continued. “Recognition for unrecognized villages, building infrastructure, schools, and clinics are basic rights of every citizen.”
MK Dov Khenin, also of the Joint List, spoke to the crowd and reminded them that “two more Arab-Bedouin villages, Al-Fur’a and Al-Za’rura, are also slated for demolition to establish a phosphate mine.”
On January 17, the Supreme Court decided not to hold another hearing on the fate of Atir and Umm al-Hiran, paving the way for the destruction of the villages and the forced evacuation of 1,200 residents to Bedouin township, Rahat. The government is planning to build a Jewish town, Hiran, on the ruins of Umm al-Hiran. Instead of Atir, the Jewish National Fund will continue to expand the Yatir Forest.
Haya Noah, Director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, condemned the decision as “racist,” claiming that it will “deepen the rift between the communities in the Negev and harm all its residents. The Negev has enough room for everyone — Jews and Arabs.”
The al-Qian tribe, who make up Umm al-Hiran and Atir, are facing their third expulsion since they were first dispossessed of their ancestral lands in 1949. The military government moved them to their current location, just north of the Bedouin town of Hura, in 1956.
Raed al-Qian, the chairman of the local committee, said “We are calling on the government to cancel the decision to evacuate the villages and instead recognize them where they are or on their original land. Or they can accept the residents’ suggestion of establishing a joint Jewish-Arab town, Hiran—Um al-Hiran.”
Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.