Court-approved Dispossession of Israeli Bedouin

The government must adopt an egalitarian planning policy that will take into account both the needs of Arab residents and the injustice that has been done to them.

The unrecognized villages of Atteer and Um al-Hiran
The unrecognized Bedouin villages of Atir and Umm al-Hiran. Albert Denkberg

Two Supreme Court rulings from last week give a judicial stamp of approval to the dispossession of Arab communities on both sides of the Green Line for the benefit of the Jewish settlement enterprise.

Last Tuesday, the court rejected an appeal by residents of the Negev Bedouin town of Umm al-Hiran, who are slated to be evicted and their houses razed so that a Jewish town, to be called Hiran, can be built on the site. The court insisted that Hiran would be open to everyone, but it is meant as a community for Orthodox Jews and therefore would not to be conducive to the integration of Bedouin.

During the proceedings, the Bedouin residents succeeded in proving that they are not squatters and have every right to live in the area, having been sent there by the military government in 1956. Nonetheless, the majority justices deemed that fact insufficient to alter their decree. Only Justice Daphne Barak-Erez, who dissented, thought it should obligate the state to consider compensating the Bedouin by giving them a building lot in the new town of Hiran.

The story of Umm al-Hiran highlights the problem of the “unrecognized” Bedouin villages, which although their inhabitants are Israeli citizens do not receive basic services because they lack master plans. Some of these villages have existed since before the state was founded. Others, like Umm al-Hiran, resulted from the expulsion of Bedouin from their lands.

The court’s ruling that the property rights of the Bedouin were not harmed because they don’t own the land only underscores the disparity in the allocation of property rights in Israel. Its ruling that this is not discrimination because Hiran will be open to all renders meaningless the idea of substantive equality and is blind to the erasure of an Arab community in order to establish a Jewish community.

Last Monday, the court refused to issue an injunction barring the demolition of the West Bank village of Susya and the expulsion of its residents. Susya’s residents were expelled from their lands in the past, and now the state seeks to destroy their current place of residence. The court’s refusal to issue the injunction grants de facto legal approval to the village’s destruction.

Regrettably, the court failed in both these cases. It did not protect equality when the clear image of the destruction of entire Arab villages should have been in the forefront of their minds, a decisive factor in their decision. But responsibility doesn’t rest with the court alone. The Israeli government must adopt an egalitarian planning policy that will take into account both the needs of Arab residents and the injustice that has been done to them and deal with them justly.