Mondoweiss

Israel’s violence at Umm Al-Hiran and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine

Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh was injured by Israeli forces during a demonstration against home demolitions in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran. (Photo: Activestills/Twitter)

Yesterday, Israeli police forces demolished homes and structures at Umm Al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in the southern Negev desert. The events included the two deaths: local resident, schoolteacher Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, as well as policeman 1st Sgt. Erez Levi.

Al-Qia’an was shot by police whilst driving slowly, before accelerating and driving into policemen further down the hill. Whilst several eyewitnesses note firing before his acceleration (confirmed by later released police helicopter video) which may have led to his either loss of control or panic, the police and authorities immediately framed this as a terror attack, with Islamic motivations. The police immediately publicised Al-Qia’an may have ‘jihadist sympathies’ based upon their finding of Israel Hayom (Shledon Adelson funded right-leaning paper) copies from 2015 whose banner headline spoke of an ISIS bomb attack, as well as books in Arabic, during a raid of his home. Reading such a newspaper, the most read newspaper in Israel, with a headline that is typical for it, is surely very suspicious. So is the possession of Arab books. Shouldn’t Al-Qia’an only have been reading Yiddish?

If there is anything unmistakable here, it is the hysteric and pathetic haste of authorities to frame this as Islamic terror. As Netanyahu hastened to frame the Jerusalem truck-ramming on the 8th of January as ‘ISIS terror’, connecting it to France and Germany, he now hastened to continue his connect-the-dots campaign of incitement, stretching yet another line from Jerusalem to Umm Al-Hiran: “He was killed in a vehicular terror attack”, said Netanyahu about the policeman.

The deputy commander of the police southern district, Peretz Amar, despite the serious doubts and conflicting accounts, was almost calling anyone attempting to doubt the official narrative stupid: he said the incident was “a deliberate attack. This is clear. This is a fact. There is no other explanation, and anyone who tries to offer an alternative explanation wasn’t here at the time and doesn’t understand.”

Alright, let’s not be stupid. Let’s zoom away for a moment, and look at the story of Umm Al-Hiran from a wider historical perspective:

Umm Al-Hiran is one of 39 ‘unrecognised’ Bedouin villages in Israel’s southern Negev.

The town was first expelled from its historical dwelling by Israeli forces in 1948, under the policy of ethnic cleansing, ‘making the desert bloom’, as it were, where the flowers are of course Jewish, not Palestinian or Bedouin, settlements. The town was thus replaced with what is now kibbutz Shoval. Non-Jewish citizens regarded generally as ‘Arabs’ were under military government from 1948 to 1966. After 1948 Umm Al-Khiran was ordered by this government to move to an area called Lagiyya, and in 1956 they were again displaced by military order to Wadi Atory, where they have remained until today. Thus, whilst displacing them, the State in fact sanctioned their location in 1956.

Yet from 2001 the Israeli Land Authorities started considering Umm Al-Hiran a ‘serious obstacle’ to their settlement plans. The plans involved the creation of a new, Jewish town, called, can you guess it? Hiran.

The name works in Hebrew, and we are reminded of Moshe Dayan’s famous address at the Haifa Technion, quoted in Haaretz, 1969: “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushu’a in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”

Umm Al Hiran has attempted to avert this fate of ethnic cleansing under the principle of ‘Judaisation’, with a long and protracted legal battle. But in 2015, after 13 years of litigation, the battle was finally lost, having reached its last possible arena – the Israeli Supreme Court. As their lawyer Suhad Bishara notes, the court, whilst rejecting the initial state claim that the villagers were ‘trespassers’, nonetheless worked on the equation that ‘the state gave, the state can take’. In its ruling, the court even acknowledged the state’s intention to demolish the Bedouin village in order to build a town “with a Jewish majority”.  As Adalah (Legal Center for Arab Minorities in Israel) summates, “the Court concluded that the state had merely allowed the Bedouin citizens in Atir-Umm al-Hiran to use the land [my emphasis], which was state land, and that the state was therefore within its rights to revoke this decision and retake the land to do with it as it wished, even after 60 years of continuous land use and residence. Thus, according to the SCT’s ruling, the residents of Atir-Umm al-Hiran had acquired no ownership status or property rights to their land over the course of their decades of residence and land use.”

We are therefore to understand the case of Umm Al-Hiran as one of many, and part of an overarching policy of violence: ethnic cleansing. This policy is sanctioned by the highest legal institution in the state – the Supreme Court. It is not surprising in this respect, that the late professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz considered one of the courts former judges (Moshe Landau), a ‘Judeo-Nazi’, when he effectively legalized torture in 1987.

So here we have this systemic violence. And whilst several eyewitnesses report of police violence on scene yesterday, the event resulting in two deaths – one of the local driver and one of a policeman, is quickly framed, not merely as violence by the dispossessed, but as terror – Islamic motivated terror no less. The policeman is of course the victim, there must be no doubt about that, and the resident is a terrorist – there must be no doubt about that either.

Whilst I could mention so many other details regarding this incident, and go in depth into the drama concerning the firing of the Israeli Army Radio host who expressed sympathy with the driver , I have chosen to focus mostly upon the bigger paradigm here. Because the violence is in there, in that bigger picture. It’s in the incitement that follows by security and government officials. The violence is in the propaganda, and it’s in the policy. And if we fail to see that, then our attention will easily be distracted by shots, deaths and “terror”.