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Why is a settler council reaching across the Green Line?

Located inside Israel proper, a tent encampment belonging to residents of a yet-to-be-built Jewish town — meant to replace an existing Bedouin village — is being managed by a West Bank settler council.

By Noam Rotem

A view of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Um al Hiran, Negev, Israel, January 18, 2014. Roughly 200,000 Bedouins live in the Negev desert. About half living in the seven government built townships in the northeast of the Negev and half in unrecognized villages which lack basic services such as clean water, electricity and sanitation. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

A view of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al Hiran, Negev, Israel, January 18, 2014. Roughly 200,000 Bedouin live in the Negev desert. About half living in the seven government built townships in the northeast of the Negev and half in unrecognized villages which lack basic services such as clean water, electricity and sanitation. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The state’s behavior in the saga of Umm el-Hiran, a small Bedouin village inside Israel’s sovereign borders, is in many ways reminiscent of the way it builds settlements on the other side of the Green Line, in the occupied West Bank.

Expulsion orders, reneging on past promises, ignoring local leaders, ignoring the needs of the local population, and bringing in a Jewish population to replace it. In this case, the name of the Jewish settlement meant to replace Umm el-Hiran is “Hiran.”

It should come as no surprise then, that despite the fact that the town is on the Israeli side of the border, the governing regional council that won a bid to manage the camp in which Hiran’s (future) residents are living — until they can move into their new homes on the ruins of Umm el-Hiran — is none other than the Hebron Hills Regional Council. In a strange act of reverse annexation, a town inside Israel proper has been annexed to a regional council in the occupied West Bank.

Before we can go on, however, here is a quick summary of this history of Umm el-Hiran: Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, members of the al-Qi’an tribe lived in an area called Khirbet Zubaleh. In 1948, the Israeli military government forcibly moved the Qi’an tribe to the location where they live today. (Their former land was given to Kibbutz Shoval as agricultural land.) This forced land “swap” is well documented in state archives, but despite the fact that the Qi’an tribe was settled in its current location by the state itself, its homes have never been connected to the electricity or water grids.

Residents of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran waiting the Supreme Court's decision on the village's case, Jerusalem, November 20, 2013.

Residents of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran waiting the Supreme Court’s decision on the village’s case, Jerusalem, November 20, 2013.

Some four months ago Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the state can change its mind and take back the land it gave to the al-Qi’an tribe. In place of their current village, Umm el-Hiran, from which they are to be expelled, a new township for religious Jews will be established. For the past few years, Hiran’s future residents have been waiting for their new homes at an encampment in the adjacent forest of Yatir.

On the last day of 2014, the Hebron Hills Regional Council “won” a bid-free tender from the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division to carry out the municipal management of the yet-to-be-established town of Hiran. On the surface of things it is a very strange choice, especially considering that neither the future town nor the current location of its residents is within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Hebron Hills council.

The bid-free tender itself doesn’t shed any light on the question as to why the Hebron Hills Regional Council is managing a new settlement being established on land that was given to a Bedouin tribe expelled from its original land in 1948.

In order to understand this strange administrative arrangement, one need only look at the identity of the people on whose behalf this new expulsion is being carried out. The future residents of Hiran, which can take place only once the residents of Umm el-Hiran are expelled, are settlers themselves. The “nucleus” of future residents, organized by the “Or” movement, comes from the yeshiva belonging to the settlement of Eli.

A JNF-funded caravan is home to settlers of the future town "Hiran," slated to be built on top of the unrecognized village of Umm Al-Hieran (photo: Adalah)

A JNF-funded caravan is home to settlers of the future town “Hiran,” slated to be built on top of the unrecognized village of Umm Al-Hieran (photo: Adalah)

In their current encampment in the Yatir Forest (read more here on how the Yatir forest was built on another Bedouin community’s land) they receive services from the Hebron Hills Regional Council, which markets it as part of its jurisdiction, funds its public servants, and its children study in a school located in the West Bank settlement of Susiya.

Through its involvement in establishing Hiran, it appears that the settler council is actually reaching itself across the Green Line.

Erasing the Green Line

But it turns out that Hiran is not the only town in Israeli territory being managed by the Hebron Hills Regional Council. Sansana, a town that was first built as a military settlement of the IDF’s Nahal Brigade, and later as a nucleus of the very same “Or” movement, was transferred in 2013 from the Bnei Shimon Regional Council to a council that was under the auspices of the military regime in the West Bank. Even the town Livne (or “Shani,” depending on who you ask), part of which is inside Israel, is managed by the Hebron Hills Regional Council.

In 2004 former MK Amram Mitzna (Labor) brought up a similar problem to the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee. The town of Nirit, which is located entirely inside Israel and belongs to the Drom HaSharon Regional Council, was forced to provide services for a new “neighborhood” that was ostensibly built in the nearby settlement of Alfei Menashe. In reality, the new neighborhood was quite far from Nirit, with the separation wall and the Palestinian village of Khirbet Ras Atia between the two. The establishment of the new neighborhood — on the other side of the Green Line — effectively turned Nirit, a town inside Israel, into a settlement.

Sanda Abulkian sits outside her demolished house in the unrecognized village of Atir on July 12, 2013. The Abulkian house has demolished four times already, three of them during 2013. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Sanda Abulkian sits outside her demolished house in the unrecognized village of Atir on July 12, 2013. The Abulkian house has demolished four times already, three of them during 2013. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

And yet the case of Hiran sets a precedent. Three of the aforementioned cases — Sansana, Livne, and Nirit — are “on the fence.” In these cases the annexation is partial, since sections of the towns lie beyond the Green Line. Hiran, on the other hand, is several kilometers deep into Israel. Furthermore, the area of Umm al-Hiran and Atir are exceptional in that they seemingly do not belong to any regional council. The Hura Local Council is closest, and the area of Hiran will eventually belong to Metar Local Council.

According to research conducted by the Interior Ministry, “the legislation applicable to councils in Judea and Samaria is different from other councils, and the connection between the two, despite appearing attractive, could potentially lead to fundamental problems in the functioning of these councils.” To the best of our knowledge, not a single town in Israeli territory is managed by a group located in the West Bank.

In reality, and right under our noses, the Green Line continues to be erased. The knowledge the settlers have gained in the occupied territories is now being brought over to Israel. The condescension, bending of rules, turning a blind eye from the local residents, and the Judaization of territory — all these are slowly creeping beyond the Green Line, which is “supposed” to mark a separation between a venerated democracy and an occupying, law-breaking regime.

Responses

The Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee responded to the claims by stating that the issue of Hiran’s management is under the authority of the Interior Ministry.

The Interior Ministry provided the following response:

The Hebron Hills Regional Council does not deal with the town of Hiran, the town is within the jurisdictional boundaries and regional planning area of the Metar Regional Council, which, along with other planning bodies, oversees and advances planning in Hiran.

As for Sinsana: this town is beyond the Green Line and therefore is within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Hebron Hills Regional Council. It must be noted that the government agreed to establish the town of Sinsana in the Hebron Hills Regional Council, and that the IDF commander in Judea and Samaria signed an order to include it in said council.

As for Shani-Livne: due to the characteristics of the town and its population, the Bnei Shimon Regional Council signed an agreement with the Hebron Hills Regional Council that the latter will provide it services.

Head of Metar Local Council Avner Ben Gera says that Hiran is within the jurisdictional boundaries and under management of Meta, and that the temporary encampment is in the area belonging to and being managed by the Hebron Regional Council. Once the residents move from the encampment to the town, they will receive services from Metar.

The Hebron Hills Regional Council responded that it provides Hiran all the municipal services after it was asked to do so.

The World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division did not issue a response.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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