New Israeli Town Built on Ruins of Bedouin Village Trying to Bar non-Jews

However, legal precedent – and a promise from the state – makes it unlikely that Hiran's cooperative association will be able to dictate who is allocated land

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People watch as the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran and the future site of Hiran is evacuated, January 18, 2017.
People watch as the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran and the future site of Hiran is evacuated, January 18, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Homes in the new town of Hiran, which is slated to be built on the ruins of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev, will be marketed to Jews only, judging by the bylaws of the Hiran cooperative association.

The bylaws, a copy of which was obtained by Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, state that a person can be accepted as a member of the association only if he is “approved by the admissions committee and meets all the requirements listed below: a Jewish Israeli citizen or permanent resident who observes the Torah and the commandments according to the values of Orthodox Judaism.”

Based on legal precedent, it seems unlikely that the association’s bylaws will actually dictate the acceptance procedures for Hiran. In 2013, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice over a similar case involving the new town of Carmit, which was also governed by a cooperative association that said members must be “Jewish Israeli citizens or permanent residents who uphold the values of Judaism.” In that case, the state sided unequivocally with the petitioners, saying membership in the association could not be a condition for obtaining land in Carmit.

Nevertheless, Adalah appealed against the bylaws on Monday to both the National Planning and Building Council and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. The organization is demanding that land in the town not be allocated to the Hiran cooperative association and that plots be set aside for all former residents of Umm al-Hiran.

Adalah argued that the cooperative association’s rules contradict the state’s promise to the High Court that Hiran would be open to all Israeli citizens. That promise was given in response to Umm al-Hiran residents’ petition against the demolition of their illegally built village to make way for a new town with proper planning approval. The state said that the new town would be open “to all Israelis from all religions and ethnic communities.”

Moreover, Adalah argued, the bylaws contradict the planning council’s own decision. In rejecting Umm al-Hiran residents’ appeal, the council similarly wrote that the new town “is meant for the general population. In marketing the plots and allocating rights to the land, ... the appellants, like members of any other community or ethic group, ... will have the possibility of buying plots and living in the new town.”

In its letter to Mendelblit, Adalah charged that the cooperative association was a discriminatory group that “limits membership to a particular national and religious group while excluding other groups” out of “racist motives.” It also said that “establishing a town for Jews only isn’t possible by law,” since this would violate not only the state’s pledge to the court, but also the court’s own ruling upholding the evictions, “which was issued based on the fact that the town would not be established on an ethnic basis.”

On Tuesday, the planning council is slated to discuss another motion related to Hiran, one filed by the state agency in charge of dealing with unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. The agency wants the council to recommend that the finance minister issue an order allowing evicted residents of Umm al-Hiran to be resettled in the town of Hura. Adalah asked both the council and Mendelblit to prevent this from happening.

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