The cabinet’s decision on Sunday to build the new town of Hiran on the lands of the Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran will require the village to be evacuated and demolished. This constitutes a new low in the state’s treatment of the Bedouin of the Negev, and a new stage in Israel’s becoming an ethnocracy: a regime that exists for the good of a single ethnic group, and that grants rights on the basis of ethnic affiliation rather than the principles of equality.
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Like many Bedouin in the Negev, Umm al-Hiran’s residents were expelled from their lands many years ago by Israel’s military administration and wandered from place to place. In 1956, they were ordered to move to the Nahal Yatir area, where they settled. A government document from 1957 discovered by Adalah, a legal advocacy group for Arab rights in Israel, includes a statement to this effect by the official who served at the time as the prime minister’s adviser on Arab affairs.
Despite this, the village never received government recognition, leaving its residents deprived of basic services such as water, electricity and a sewage system. Residents of Umm al-Hiran say that when the state sought to issue demolition orders targeting their homes and filed suit for their evacuation, it concealed the fact that the village had existed since 1956 and that its residents settled there on orders from the military governor. Appeals have been filed against these demolition orders, and are pending.
Yaron Ben Ezra, the director of the World Zionist Organization's settlement division, told TheMarker in 2011 that the purpose of the plan for new Jewish communities in the Negev is “to prevent the continued invasion of state lands by the Bedouin and to prevent the creation of Bedouin or Arab [territorial] contiguity.” A month before this admission, the Prime Minister’s Office, crudely intervening in a professional decision by the National Planning and Building Council, denied recognition to two Bedouin villages in the Negev, one of which was Umm al-Hiran (the other was Tel Arad).
To enable the establishment of Hiran, which is earmarked for Jews from the religious Zionist community and will be one of several Jewish towns being built in the area, the state has categorically ignored the existing residents. Currently, 500 non-Jewish citizens of the state are supposed to be expelled to another community (Hurra) for the benefit of these Jewish citizens.
The story of Umm al-Hiran is the story of many unrecognized villages, which, contrary to the story the government periodically tries to sell, are not the result of a Bedouin “invasion” of Israeli land. Some have existed since before the establishment of the state, and some were created because their residents were expelled from the places where they had previously lived.
The government should not wait for the court to rule. It must renounce this act of theft and recognize the right of the Bedouin residents to remain in their village.