While the media turned out in force on Sunday for the popular protest at the focal point of Israeli Jewish economic discontent – Dimona – it was virtually absent from the urgent leadership gathering at ground zero of Israeli Arab humiliation – Umm al-Hiran, the Bedouin village slated for destruction and replacement by a new Jewish town to be called Hiran.
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Two weeks ago, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by Umm al-Hiran roughly 1,000 residents against their eviction and the village’s demolition. But participants at Sunday’s meeting, who included Knesset members from the Joint Arab List, representatives of the unrecognized villages and other public figures, agreed unanimously that Umm al-Hiran’s demolition was a red line which they must not allow to be crossed.
The committee decided to wage a public and legal battle against the demolition. Planned steps including setting up a protest tent in the village, holding a large demonstration in Be’er Sheva, blocking roads, a hunger strike by Knesset members, and possibly asking the High Court to reconsider the case.
“The prevailing feeling is that our backs are already to the wall,” said Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh. “We can’t allow such a decision to be implemented. We’re ready to fight with all the means at our disposal; we can’t remain silent in the face of the injustice that is about to occur. A person can’t stand aside and watch Arab residents be uprooted from their homes in order to build a new community for Jews only.”
Umm al-Hiran resident Salem Abu al-Kiyan agreed. “This is a decision we can’t accept – when they ask us to vacate the site to which we were moved by the state 50 years ago, solely in order to establish a Jewish community,” he said.
MK Ahmad Tibi termed the decision a new low in the state’s “racist treatment” of its Arab citizens. “The Arab public sees this act as a declaration of war against it, which mandates a chain reaction in Israel and abroad to prevent the community’s eviction,” he said.
MK Talab Abu Arar, himself a Negev resident, said Arab leaders had “always called for restraint,” but this was no longer an option. “The government will bear responsibility for any deterioration in the situation,” he added.
The state says at least some Bedouin from Umm al-Hiran could live in Hiran, but they say this would break up their tribe and be foreign to their way of life. The state has offered to relocate them to the Bedouin town Hura, but residents there say the town has a severe land shortage already.