One-month-old Jowan Abu al-Qi’an will most likely be the last person born in the village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert. The house that her family built out of stone will be demolished, and the Bedouin village will soon be razed to the ground to make way for the new Jewish community “Hiran.”
For the Abu al-Qi’an tribe, Umm al-Hiran has been home since 1956. They settled in the northern Negev after they were expelled under military order from their original village of Wadi Zubaleh where Kibbutz Shoval now stands. They now have to leave their homes for the second time.
“There’s no space for us. We have to go from one place to another,” 35-year-old Hassan Abu al-Qi’an said sitting in his living room with family members. They could receive orders to move out at any moment, he explained.
“We’d like to live together. We told them that it’s OK for us to live with Jews, but the court said no. This place is just for Jewish people,” Hassan said.
Umm al-Hiran residents filed a petition in 2013 against their removal and demolition of their village, stating that the military administration transferred them to the area.
But Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the petition in 2015, ending the 13-year battle by ruling that the land belongs to the state, authorizing the village’s demolition.
“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,” Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote.
“It’s all a racial issue”
According to Adalah- The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Court’s decision is legally flawed since it contradicts previous Supreme Court precedent and fails to recognize Bedouin citizens’ constitutional rights. The scheduled demolition of Umm al-Hiran enables the state to now also demolish the remaining 34 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages.
“Although the residents of Umm al-Hiran – all citizens of the State of Israel – have lived in their present location since 1956 – legally and in accordance with Israeli military orders, as it was the military administration that moved them there – the state now seeks to forcibly displace them and demolish their village solely to build a new Jewish town of ‘Hiran’ on its ruins,” Mati Milstein of Adalah stated.
“This case is 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.”
The Israeli Land Administration, the governmental body that manages public land was unavailable for comment.
Umm al-Hiran is one of 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages deemed illegal by the state and any construction is forbidden. Despite being Israeli citizens, the Bedouin were never provided with basic services such as electricity or water.
The Abu al-Qi’an clan has proven to be self-reliant, installing solar-powered electricity themselves. The Bedouin rely on water tanks and resort to building their own water systems.
Bedouin in unrecognized villages pay more for water than anyone else. According to lawyer Zohra Ahmed, a family in the Bedouin village of Beer M’shasha paid almost 13 times more for its water than nearby Jewish neighborhoods. Rights groups claim the government uses discriminatory policies to force the Bedouin to abandon their land.
Driving from Be’er Sheva, it’s easy to miss the turn onto the unpaved, winding road that leads to Umm al-Hiran as the village is barely visible in the pitch dark.
In the living room of the Abu al-Qi’an family, a picturesque painting of a river adorns the entire wall, created by an artist from Hebron as a gift. On a smaller scale on the opposite wall the artist painted Al Aqsa’s Dome of the Rock to keep the third holiest site for Muslims close to the Abu al-Qi’an family when access to Al Aqsa was restricted for men during Ramadan.
The artwork and their solar panels will soon be amongst the rubble since the homes of some 700 Bedouins lie on lands of the planned metropolitan area of Be’er Sheva. Israeli media reported that the new Jewish village of Hiran would initially comprise of 2,500 housing units. Umm al-Hiran residents have been offered land in neighboring towns such as Hura.
According to a court-issued demolition order, the state can demolish two houses and approximately eight adjacent additional structures. This initial stage in the demolition would leave some 20 residents homeless. Afterwards the state is required to appeal to the court for a renewal of the demolition order.
Yasser, one of the Abu al-Qi’an family members who served in the Israeli military explained he was frustrated with the discriminatory treatment that he experienced both in the military and at home.
“It’s all a racial issue,” Yasser said. “We’re only looking for equality among Jews and Arabs; we don’t ask for anything else.
“There’s one Jew who lives in our neighborhood. The state provided him with everything- water, electricity. Our families are dying slowly from the pressure and stress. We weren’t given schools, water, electricity or transportation.
“We built it all ourselves only to have the state now tell us ‘No, you need to get out.’ We have to start from scratch again. There is so much free land. Why do they need to take this specific land? Why do they need to come to us here?” Yasser asked.
Preventing “invasion of state lands”
According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, more than half of approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in unrecognized villages.
Human rights groups claim the demolitions are part of Israeli policy to expel the indigenous Palestinian population to make way for exclusively Jewish communities.
The Bedouin make up about 30 percent of the Negev’s population but live on two percent of the land.
In 2011 Yaron Ben Ezra, the director of the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division stated that the reason for building 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.”
The Begin-Prawer Plan introduced in 2011 would displace tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel and use their land for state development. The international community strongly criticized the bill and it has been frozen since December 2013.
Regardless, demolitions have continued. Last month the Bedouin village al-Araqib was demolished for the 105th time since 2010.
For Yasser, he fears the displacement and discrimination will lead to resentment among the Bedouin.
“When there was a community of 1,000 Jewish Israelis living near Gaza, the government said it was expensive to keep them there due to security reasons, so they moved them to another location where they were given a lot of land, business, a good life,” Yasser said.
“We are ready to move if the government can offer us the same, but we don’t want to start from zero again,” Yasser said.