Cabinet OKs Demolishing Bedouin Village, Replacing With Jewish Town

Unauthorized village makes cabinet agenda even though its future is in the court's hands.

Shirly Seidler
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Shirly Seidler

Israel's ministers voted in a special cabinet session on Sunday to demolish an unauthorized Bedouin village and replace it with a religious Jewish community.

The session was held at Midreshet Ben-Gurion at Sde Boker in the Negev. The new community on the site is to be called Hiran.

The Bedouin village slated for demolition, Umm al-Hiran, is one of a number of Bedouin communities that were settled without permits.

The cabinet had already approved a blueprint known as the "Prawer plan," which calls for the resettlement of large numbers of Bedouin from unrecognized communities to recognized Bedouin villages.

In this specific case, the cabinet met to discuss the fate of Umm al-Hiran even though its future is the subject of a Supreme Court case, which is scheduled to be heard next week.

Residents of the village have been offered a number of alternative places to live, but they plan to demonstrate at the courthouse against what they claim is discriminatory treatment by the state.

The proposed construction of Hiran and three other new communities in the Negev won cabinet approval more than a decade ago, in 2002. Late in 2009 the National Council for Planning and Building gave its approval to build Hiran on the northern Negev site east of Meitar.

The core group of families slated to move to Hiran are national religious Jews, who are to be joined by secular residents moving to the site from Meitar itself.

The village of Umm al-Hiran was established in 1956 as a place of residence for Bedouin from the Abu-Alkian tribe who had left a site near Kibbutz Shoval in the northern Negev, apparently due to conflicts with a neighboring clan. Umm al-Hiran is now home to about 500 people, but like other Bedouin villages that lack official recognition as local municipal communities, it lacks infrastructure and electricity.

Sources at Adallah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said Sunday that the establishment of Jewish communities in the Negev at the same time that the government is advancing the Prawer plan reflects a racist approach toward the Bedouin residents of the Negev. Instead of displacing the indigenous population of Bedouin, the sources said, the government should engage the community in a dialogue over an alternative to the Prawer relocation plan.

The group organizing the demonstration at the Supreme Court, the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, called the proposed demolition plan for Umm al-Hiran a policy that promotes social inequality between Jews and Arabs instead of seeking to bridge social disparities.

A home in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in 2009.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

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