The Arab village that Israel plans to demolish

The Arab village that Israel plans to demolish
Comment: Israel is to destroy an Israeli Arab village in the Negev and replace it with a Jewish one. Expect nothing but silence from the international community, says Martin Linton.
4 min read
13 May, 2015
Some of the village's inhabitants still make a living as shepherds [Dan Porges]
An entire Israeli Arab village, Umm al-Hiran, is to be demolished so an Israeli Jewish village can be built on the same site with the same name, Hiran.

The village is home to 700 Arabs who have lived there for nearly 60 years. They were ordered to move there in 1956 by the Israeli military commander of the Negev, who gave them permission to build a village, and land to grow crops and graze their sheep on.

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled by 2-1 last week that the state had the right to demolish the village. It overruled a proposal from a third judge, Daphne Barak-Erez, that the villagers should be offered a plot of land on which to build their own houses in the new village.

We are not against them living here, but we want to stay here too and live together with them as neighbours.
-Atwa Abu Alkian.
The court in nearby Kiryat Gat is expected to approve the eviction notices at the end of May to allow the Israeli army to move in with bulldozers to clear the site.

Waiting to move in

Thirty Jewish settler families are living in portable homes a couple of kilometres away, waiting for the new houses to be built so they can move in.

The Arab village leaders have behaved with remarkable patience. They have invited the settlers' leader over for coffee to see if they could agree a compromise solution.

They have explained there is no need for the demolitions or evictions, as there is room for both.

"We are not against them living here, but we want to stay here too and live together with them as neighbours," says Atwa Abu Alkian for the villagers.

They point out there is plenty of space - 3.25 million acres - in the Negev and the settlers don't need to move to the one small area where they are living.

At the time of Israel's war of independence in 1948, the villagers were thrown out of their ancestral village in a more fertile area in the western Negev to make way for a Jewish kibbutz as part of the drive to "make the desert bloom".

Eight years later they were forcibly moved again to their present location in the less fertile northern Negev, where they rebuilt their village and its sister village Atir.

"It was a desert with no roads, water, houses or services. We built the village. We invested in the houses, the roads and the water pipes," the village sheikh said. "Life has been tough, but we worked hard to develop this place into a beautiful and wonderful village."

Off the grid

Like all the other "unrecognised" villages in the Negev, they are provided with no mains electricity, no paved roads, no water and no sanitation. They have to do their best buying water from tankers and using solar energy.

The Jewish-Israeli owner of a dog-kennel 800 metres away is provided with water, electricity and sanitation.
This is not because it is remote. The Jewish-Israeli owner of a dog-kennel only 800m away gets all these services. The Israelis do this solely to make life difficult for Arab villagers in the hope they will move.

Nor is it a question of money. When the villagers try to pave the roads, army bulldozers break them up; when they install water pipes, they are disconnected; when they build stone houses, they are demolished. The Israelis want the buildings to look temporary, ramshackle, worthless.

This makes it easier for the Israelis to sustain the myth that the villagers are Bedouin nomads who originally came from other countries. In fact, while they are all proud of their Bedouin heritage, it is historically verifiable that their families have lived in the Negev for hundreds of years.

And while a few of the villagers are still engaged in the traditional Bedouin occupation of sheep farming, Umm al-Hiran also has lawyers, teachers and doctors among its 700 residents.

This is Israel expelling its own citizens, simply because of their race. Only the international community can save the village of Umm al-Hiran. But, as ever, we can expect nothing but silence.