Israel is moving forward with a controversial plan to outright replace a Bedouin village with a Jewish town in the Negev/Naqab.
About 200 Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel took part in a demonstration on Thursday in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in southern Israel, where the state plans to destroy the village and replace it with a new Jewish town called ‘Hiran.’
The protestors chanted slogans, such as, “No to demolitions,” and “No to racism,” and some took to social media to share images and posts under the hashtag #Save_UmAlHiran. A number of members of the Knesset Joint Arab List joined in solidarity with those demanding that Israel respect the Bedouins’ right to stay on their land.
Earlier this week, Israeli construction workers moved tractors onto the village hilltop, just a few hundred meters away from the Bedouin families’ homes. The protestors marched uphill to the construction site, where policemen had set up fences in anticipation of the protest.
According to one of the workers at the site, the authorities have begun to clear the area in order to set up temporary housing for the Jewish families that are expected to move into the new town. Most of these families are currently living in an encampment in the nearby Yatir forest, supplied with electricity and water and sponsored by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The idea, it appears, is to move the new Jewish inhabitants closer to the land in order to hasten the building process and pressure the Bedouin residents to leave.
This is despite the fact that the villagers have filed a legal motion to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding a second hearing and reconsideration of its ruling in May 2015 which approved the state’s plans to evict the 700 Bedouin villagers and build the Jewish town of Hiran. Adalah, which has represented the villagers in the Israeli courts for 12 years, has warned that the Court’s ruling “permits the implementation of further plans to dispossess and displace the Bedouin of the Naqab/Negev [region of Israel], such as the Prawer Plan.”
Contrary to the state’s longstanding claims, the Abu al-Qi’an tribe are not trespassers on the land. The Israeli military government transferred them there in 1956, after it displaced them from their original home in Khirbet Zubaleh in 1948. This fact was affirmed by the Supreme Court as well as the lower courts.
Nonetheless, the Court asserted that the state had the right to retrieve the land, and the villagers were being amply compensated by being moved to Hura, a recognized township mired in its own housing crisis and other social problems. Umm al-Hiran’s sister village, Atir, home to about 300 residents, is also to be displaced and its land used to expand the man-made Yatir Forest.
Raed Abu al-Qi’an, a resident and activist from the village, told +972, “The government has no problem with Jewish citizens living on this property – so why should they have a problem with us? They allow rural communities to be built for Jews across the Negev – why not us?”
Embracing his young son, standing next to him, Raed added, “We have always said, and continue to say, that we have no objections to Jewish families living here or nearby us – but not in place of us. That is racism and injustice.”