T’ruah condemns the Israeli government’s recent decision to transfer 450 Bedouin citizens of Israel from their village of Umm al-Hiran to the nearby Bedouin township of Hura on a “temporary” basis. The level of chutzpah that government officials have shown with their attempts to legitimize their decision, claiming that village residents agreed to this move despite any evidence, is stunning. Raed Abu Al-Qian, the chairman of the village local committee, is quoted by two Israeli newspapers as saying that not a single resident has agreed to or was consulted about this arrangement.
The Israeli government has long claimed that Umm al-Hiran residents are invaders and criminals, building illegally on land that is not theirs. But the government and courts acknowledge that the Abu al-Qian Bedouin tribe was moved to this area in the 1950s by military order after their original lands were confiscated. They have been denied their right to legally build houses and other structures ever since.
This decision seems to be preparing the ground for another round of violent, heavily militarized home demolitions in Umm al-Hiran, which on January 18, 2017 led to the tragic killings of a Bedouin citizen and a police officer. The demolitions are intended to force Umm al-Hiran residents to move to one of the overcrowded and poverty-stricken Bedouin townships, and to force them to give up their agricultural way of life and the lands that they have cultivated for decades.
Furthermore, the government has also approved the establishment of a new Jewish town called “Hiran” located precisely where Umm al-Hiran is today. The Jewish National Fund has overseen infrastructure preparations for the new town since 2015, and the Or Movement, one of the Jewish National Fund’s Blueprint Negev partners, is one of the major advocates for the new town. The JNF has even funded caravans in a nearby temporary camp housing Hiran’s future Jewish residents, who are waiting for Umm al-Hiran’s residents to be removed and for their new town to be established. In March 2016, Israeli civil society organizations and representatives of the Bedouin villages of Umm Al Hiran and Atir sent a letter to Daniel Atar, the JNF chairman, asking him to stop the JNF’s involvement in the move. In it, they wrote: “Will the JNF have a hand in this injustice…of establishing a Jewish town that will lead to the eviction of Bedouin citizens, men, women and children, from their homes?”
There is a another way. The Umm al-Hiran residents have announced that they are happy to live in the new town of Hiran, alongside their new Jewish neighbors. Alternatively, they would be willing to move to the nearby Bedouin village of Atir in order to continue to practice agriculture on their lands. Anyone who has visited the Negev knows that there is more than enough land in the Negev for both Jewish and Bedouin citizens of Israel. All pending Bedouin land claims amount to a mere 5% of the Negev. In 2012, Bedouin leaders and Israeli civil society organizations came together to formulate an Alternative Master Plan to demonstrate that an agreed-upon planning solution that respects Bedouin rights and the state’s interests is possible. There is no reason to displace anyone.
T’ruah calls on the Israeli government to end its failed and unjust policy of house demolitions, and to enter into good-faith negotiations with the Umm al-Hiran residents to find a sustainable, mutually agreed upon solution that recognizes the Umm al-Hiran residents’ land rights, civil rights and human rights. Only thus can Israeli Jews and Bedouins share the Negev in mutual recognition and respect. Furthermore, T’ruah calls on the Jewish National Fund and its partners to cease any and all involvement in the establishment of the new town of “Hiran” until a just solution is reached with the Bedouin residents of the area.