Israel's Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a petition by residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran against their removal and the demolition of the community – in order to construct a new town for Jewish residents in its place. The court ruled the land belongs to the state and the Bedouins have no legal rights to it.
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“The state is the owner of the lands in dispute, which were registered in its name in the framework of the arrangement process; the residents have acquired no rights to the land but have settled them [without any authorization], which the state cancelled legally. In such a situation, there is no justification for intervention in the rulings of the previous courts,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein in the majority opinion.
Rubinstein ruled that the appeal should be rejected for two reasons: First, because the petition was an indirect attack against the decisions of the government’s establishment of the new community of Hiran, to be built on the state-owned land – a challenge that should have been raised in other forums. Second, the judges ruled the government’s actions did not in any way violate the petitioners’ legal rights – and even if such rights were harmed, it was a “proportionate harm.”
The Supreme Court decision concerns only the evacuation orders. The Kiryat Gat Magistrate’s Court is scheduled to hold a hearing at the end of this month about the demolition orders for the houses in Umm al-Hiran.
Residents fought cabinet decision
In November 2013, a number of families from the Abu Alkiyan clan, who live in the unrecognized community of Umm al-Hiran, filed a petition with the aid of Adalah – Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, to prevent the demolition of their homes and the evacuation of the residents – after the cabinet approved the creation of Hiran and the demolition of their unrecognized village.
The petitioners claimed they did not squat on the land, but were transferred to the area in the Yattir Forest in 1956 by direct order of the military administration of the time. But now, their lands lie within the master plan of the Be’er Sheva metropolitan area. The government has never denied that the residents were moved to Umm al-Hiran by state authorities. Umm al-Hiran is now home to about 700 people, say residents, but like other Bedouin villages that lack official recognition as local municipal communities, it lacks infrastructure and electricity.
The Abu Alkiyan clan now resides in two villages, Atir and Umm al-Hiran, located near Wadi Atir, close to Route 316 and east of the village of Houra. Until 1948, the clan lived on the land now used by Kibbutz Shoval. After the War of Independence, they traveled across the Negev looking for new land, but did not find any, because most of it was already claimed by other tribes. In 1956, it approached the military administration and was transferred to the Wadi Atir area. A classified military administration document dating from 1957 says the clan received 7,000 dunams of land near the wadi. It then split into two hamlets that shared the land. Unlike in many Bedouin communities, the houses in Atir and Umm al-Hiran are built of stone.
Decade of house demolitions
Over the past decade houses in the village were demolished a number of times, and residents were offered a compromise of moving to the nearby town of Hura, where they would be compensated with an 800-square meter plot of land. But the families who petitioned the court refused the offer, saying they will not be removed from their land a third time.
Rubinstein wrote about this claim: “This is not expulsion and not expropriation, but the proposed evacuation involves various proposals of moving, construction, compensation and the possibility of homes, whether in the town of Hura where most of the residents of the illegal villages involved will be moved, or in the community of Hiran, which is to be built.”
In conclusion, Rubinstein said the issue of the Bedouin lands is one of the most difficult and challenging the court has dealt with, and is filled with sensitive emotions and political disputes.
Justice Daphne Barak-Erez, who disagreed with parts of Rubinstein’s opinion, criticized the government’s actions: “The petitioners cannot receive the full support they asked for, but it is also not possible to reconcile oneself with the flaws in the authorities’ actions concerning the decision on the evacuation and compensation involved.” She said the authorities should reconsider the compensation offered, since the residents had lived there for 20 years and were not trespassing. In addition the state should consider offering them a plot to live in the new town to be built on the land, in addition to the previous proposals, she suggested.
In 2012, the National Planning and Building Council approved the master plan for Hiran, the latest in a series of decisions on the matter by the state. Despite being approved, work on the town was delayed following the appeal by the Bedouin residents. Hiran is slated for 2,400 housing units, and the Bedouin can also choose to live there if they want, attorney Moshe Golan, representing the government, told the court in one of the hearings. But he noted the Bedouin residents would not receive the same 800-square meter plot in Hiran they would receive elsewhere, since the plots in Hiran were much smaller. 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 the nearby community of Meitar, along with others.
Salim Abu Alkian of Umm al-Hiran, who led the residents in the court petition, told Haaretz he was disappointed by the decision. “The decision was very disappointing, but we knew beforehand that is what would happen.” He accused the entire Israeli establishment, government and courts of racism.
Residents plan to stay put
Abu Alkian said the residents will go on refusing to be moved to nearby Hura: “I will continue to fight since I am not a criminal, and this is my home.” He said they were considering turning to an international court to protest.
Adalah said that even though the Supreme Court noted in its decision that the residents are living in the area with permission of the state and at its instruction, the “court makes do with the technical authority of the state to act as it pleases with the land on which Umm al-Hiran and Atir sit. In doing so, the court gave legitimacy to the erasing of an entire village off the face of the earth and the expulsion of its residents, while ignoring the entire human, political, social and historical perspective.”
Adalah said that together with the residents, human rights organizations and Arab community representatives, it would in the coming days examine legal and public tactics to protect the village from demolition