Jewish settlers have been camped out in an illegal settlement in the Negev (Naqab) forest of Yatir for two and a half years, waiting for the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hieran to be razed so they can move in and build an exclusively-Jewish settlement on its ruins.
By Nadia Ben-Youssef
Deep within Yatir Forest in the Negev (Naqab), on “this side” of the Green Line, there is a temporary settlement where 30 settler families are waiting. Waiting for the promised moment when the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hieran is destroyed; waiting for its roughly 500 residents to be forcibly displaced; and waiting for their exclusively-Jewish town of Hiran to be built in its place.
Over the last two and a half years that I have lived in Israel, I’ve spent a fair amount of time learning the roads to villages that, according to official Israeli maps, do not exist. I know the names of historical villages that Israel calls “illegal,” and I’ve spoken to countless Israeli citizens whom the state has labeled “criminal trespassers” for living on their ancestral lands. I’m not unfamiliar with the alternate universe of the Negev (Naqab), and have even become accustomed to issuing a daily self-reminder to believe what I see. And yet, last week I found myself wandering about in a state of utter bewilderment.
There had been rumors that such an encampment existed. But as the temporary settlement – let us call it an outpost – was established in contravention of the Regional Master Plan, not even the residents of Umm al-Hieran had been able to locate it. Its establishment has also escaped the public legal challenge to the demolition and eviction of Umm al-Hieran and to the government’s plans to establish Hiran on its ruins. Indeed, even in the last two weeks, the nearly decade-long legal procedures have continued to tick along with all semblance of democracy, while the desired facts have already been established on the ground.
In Israeli courts, the people of Umm al-Hieran, represented by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, have established, and the state has acknowledged, that the village was created by military order in 1956. The people have established, and the state has acknowledged, that on August 28, 1957, the Israeli Military Government leased the Abu al-Qi’an tribe 7,000 dunums of land for residence, agriculture and grazing. The State Attorney, while conceding those facts, claimed that as they were Bedouin, the state expected them to “live under the stars” and not to build actual brick-and-mortar homes, which it considers illegal. In court last Thursday, Attorney Suhad Bishara of Adalah called this assumption “inhumane.”
Over the last 57 years, the people of Umm al-Hieran have indeed built houses, paved roads, dug wells for collecting rainwater, and farmed the land they leased from Israel. But as one of 35 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages, the state has deliberately denied the people of Umm al-Hieran – citizens of Israel – access to all basic services including water, electricity and sewage in order to pressure them to abandon the land and their rural life and to move to the government-planned urban township of Hura.
As Sheikh Farhoud Abu al-Qi’an stated in a testimony given to one of the planning committees, “Life has been tough, but I worked hard to deal with the situation, and the residents have developed this place into a beautiful and wonderful village.”
According to Shmuel, the spokesman for the Hiran settlers, they have been preparing for the move onto the land of Umm al-Hieran for four years, and have been living in the outpost in the forest – which has been connected to water and electricity and even benefits from state recycling services – for two and a half years. Shmuel believes and tells anyone who asks that the squatting Bedouin have “recently settled there.” This is certainly a convenient narrative, and one that makes a fantastic fairy tale for the Hiran Children’s Channel, a creative outpost initiative posted on YouTube.
With his apparent gift of prophecy, Shmuel tells us that the Hiran pioneers will be living on their promised land within one year. Never mind that an Israeli Supreme Court hearing to decide on the constitutionality of displacing one group of people in order to replace them with another is set for September 2013. “It’s ideological,” says Shmuel.
And it seems that the rest of this story, a disturbing microcosm of the Zionist ethnocratic plans for all historic Palestine, is just another soon-to-be-forgotten (or, better yet, never-learned) detail.
Nadia Ben-Youssef is a human rights lawyer living in the Naqab and serving as an international advocacy consultant for Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.