Don’t Uproot Israelis, Whether Arab or Jew

Incentives and negotiations are the only permissible means for moving a population from one place to another, whether Bedouin in the Negev today, Jews in the Gaza Strip in 2005, or anyone else

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Police stand guard after shooting the driver in what was mistaken to be a car-ramming attack at Umm al-Hiran in the Negev, January 18, 2017.
Police stand guard after shooting the driver in what was mistaken to be a car-ramming attack at Umm al-Hiran in the Negev, January 18, 2017.Credit: Tsafrir Abayov / AP
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

It took over a year of investigations for the state prosecutor to conclude that the police who shot and killed Yakub Abu al-Kiyan during the forced evacuation of the Bedouin from their homes in Umm al-Hiran did not commit a crime; there was no conclusive evidence that a terror attack took place. Case closed? Not really.

Quite aside from the lives lost in this tragic incident, the question is: Why did the government decide to forcibly evacuate Israeli citizens belonging to the Abu al-Kiyan tribe who had been ordered to settle in this location by government authorities and who had been living there for over 60 years? There is no justification for such an act. And it makes no difference if the families being pulled out of their homes are Bedouin or Jews.

Still fresh in our memory is the uprooting 13 years ago by Israeli troops of the families of Gush Katif in Gaza who had been encouraged by the government to settle in the area. Those terrible sights will be remembered for many years and should have served as a warning that families that have been living in their homes with government approval for many years should not be uprooted by the government by force. That lesson seems to have been forgotten. Or is it assumed to apply only to Jewish settlers?

The commanders of the troops who forced the Gush Katif settlers out of their homes at least had the good sense to send the soldiers unarmed to carry out this onerous task. The police who were sent to carry out the evacuation of the villagers of Umm al-Hiran came prepared to use their weapons. They ended up using them. The tragic results could have been foreseen.

What excuse has been offered for these brutal actions? Good intentions? We know where they are likely to lead. But worse, they were presented as part of a plan, presumably for the “common good.” The end justifies the means.

The disengagement from Gaza was presented as a step that would strengthen Israel’s security, and a step toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It even obtained the approval of the High Court of Justice, which seemed to give preference to the government’s plans over the civil rights of Israel’s citizens. It turned out that it was injurious to Israel’s security interests and did not bring peace with the Palestinians any closer. On the contrary.

But worse yet, in the background was the belief that the end justifies the means. That theory we have heard before from totalitarian regimes in the 20th century, and it should have been completely discredited and discarded by now. And here it reappears in 21st-century democratic Israel.

The background to the forced evacuation of the Israeli citizens from Umm al-Hiran was similar. It was presented as part of a plan to settle the Negev and concentrate the Bedouin population there in Bedouin towns, thus opening the Negev to Jewish settlement. It also received judicial approval, where here again the justices disregarded the civil rights of Israel’s Bedouin citizens. The end presumably justifies the means.

Although Ehud Olmert as prime minister talked about continuing the forced evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip by removing Jewish settlers from their homes in Judea and Samaria, that idea seems to have been laid to rest by now. Hardly anyone wants to see a repeat of the scenes witnessed during the Gaza disengagement. Once is enough.

That does not seem to be the case regarding the forcible resettlement of some of the Negev Bedouin. The forcible evacuation of the Bedouin families from Umm al-Hiran was part of a wider plan for moving the Bedouin from the “dispersion” in the Negev into Bedouin towns.

Whatever merits this plan may have, it under no circumstances should be accompanied by the use of force. Incentives and negotiations are the only permissible means for implementing the plan. Hopefully that lesson has been learned at Umm al-Hiran. The end does not justify the means.

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