Saturday, October 31, 2020

A victory for solidarity activists, but Negev Bedouins are left in limbo

By PM collaborators - December 03, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [demolition] [Negev Desert]

Following international pressure, the planned demolition of Um al-Hiran was once again postponed. But residents still face an uncertain future.

The Bedouin village, located in the Negev Desert near the Israeli city of Beersheba and home to Palestinian citizens of Israel, was already expecting the worst after a court ordered the destruction of several houses by November 30, which would have resulted in the homelessness of twenty people. 
But following an international solidarity campaign, including the arrival of Knesset members and foreign activists to the village, the police postponed the planned demolitions. 
Now that the November 30 deadline has passed without incident, Um Al-Hiran has been given a reprieve – at least temporarily. Mati Milstein, who works for rights group Adalah, said that after November 30, the state is required to appeal to the court for a renewal of the demolition order.
Nonetheless, Milstein warned, problems remain. Despite a government claim that “immediate and available alternative” accommodation exist for the residents of the village, “no housing solution is available.” As Raed Abu al-Qian, a resident and activist in the village put it, “Um al-Hiran is crying for help.”
And although the wholescale demolition of the village has been postponed, local people are allegedly being forced to demolish their own houses by the Israeli police. As The Jerusalem Post reports, Ahmed Abu al-Kaeean was pressured into signing a document agreeing to destroy his house late at night under duress.
Ra’ed Abu al-Kaeen is the head of the local residents’ committee and a member of Ahmed’s extended family. “It was by force, they forced him to sign,” Ra’ed said. “[Ahmed] fainted from this, he lost consciousness, we were with him all night in the hospital Friday. It's not by free will.''
In a statement, Adalah condemned this latest development as “the most clear-cut example of racist state land policy since the end of the military regime, cynically exploiting a weakened Arab Bedouin population in order to bolster Israeli Jewish settlement in its place.” For its part, the Israeli police denies any knowledge of people being pressured to sign demolition notices at short notice.
Um al-Hiran’s most recent problems started in May 2015, after the Israeli Supreme Court ordered that the village – which Israeli law considers illegal – should be demolished. In its place, the authorities plan to build a new Jewish town, also called Hiran.
But Um al-Hiran is in its current location to begin with because of Israeli government action. In 1956, the villagers were moved to Um al-Hiran as part of a concerted effort to “concentrate” the Negev Bedouins – considered a “problem” by the Israeli state – in one area. Now, the Bedouin population of Beersheba district is squashed into just 1% of the land.
Despite their forced displacement, however, the villagers never received legal permission for their new homes at Um Al-Hiran, even though they are Israeli citizens.
In this respect, the Bedouins of Um al-Hiran are not unique. As Milstein explained, “the demolition and forcible displacement of Um al-Hiran residents has stark legal and practical implications for the 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and their 70,000 indigenous inhabitants.”
After all, Milstein added, the destruction of Um al-Hiran “gives the state wide discretion to evacuate citizens from state land in the absence of a compelling public purpose and facilitates the implementation of further plans to displace the Bedouin in the unrecognized villages and dispossess this community of its remaining land.”
Amnesty International also criticised the impending demolitions, stating that “efforts to evict and resettle the residents should be cancelled immediately.”
“All demolition orders should be suspended until there is a fixed policy regarding the Bedouins in the Negev, so that Israel fulfils its obligation to prevent discrimination under international law,” the group added.
Moreover, the plight of Um al-Hiran also highlights the similarities in Israeli policy on both sides of the green line.
As a recent Adalah report states, “the ruling has parallels to the Court’s decision in the case of Susiya, a West Bank Bedouin village, and highlights the state’s common policy of forced displacement on both sides of the Green Line.” Indeed, Susiya has also been at risk of demolition over recent months.
Despite all these problems, however, supporters of the villagers were keen to emphasise their willingness to coexist with their fellow Israelis. For his part, Bassel Ghattas, a Knesset member for the Arab List, was eager to highlight the villagers’ willingness to reach a compromised solution to the dispute.
As Ghattas said in a recent interview, “[The residents] are ready to consider solutions which fit with the general planning of the region.” But, Ghattas added, “the government wants simply to demolish and throw them away.”

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