Again, and yet again, thousands of Negev Bedouin (Arab citizens of Israel) live under threat of home demolition. Today I will focus on mostly 1,200 victims from Negev villages of A-Tir and Um Al-Hiran.
Here is what we might read in a few months… The Israel Land Administration (ILA), with the assistance of an unusually large police force and IDF soldiers, demolished dozens of tin shack homes in unrecognized Bedouin villages Um Al-Hiran and A-Tir in the northern Negev.
The ILA is destroying the village and evacuating the inhabitants so that a Jewish Community named “Hiran” can be established in the area and the Yatir forest can be expanded.
Here is the current status: After last week’s High Court decision removed the last legal hurdle to expelling the residents, and with the JNF bulldozers already working, international concern is the last, best hope. That means we must sign the letter to stop the demolitions, ask everyone we know to use the link below and send a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister and President and tell the truth to power in our own country, our Representatives and Senators in our Congress, and our President. The Prime Minister can stop this and we must apply pressure.
We can’t stand by and watch this. The Negev is 60 percent of the State of Israel, most of it is a vacant desert, with about 600,000 residents, a third of them are Arab-Bedouin, who stayed there in 1948 after the State of Israel was established. The Negev Bedouin community is under attack. Since 1948 to today, inequality between members of this community and others in the Negev has been maintained. Things like high rates of infant mortality, enormous gap of academic achievement and the home demolition policy deepen and maintain systemic inequality.
An abridged story of Um Al-Hiran and A-Tir: Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Arab citizens were placed under a military regime. The tribe that today lives in these villages were ordered to move twice during this military rule. They were told by the military to move to the current site, and have documents showing the land allocated to them for homes, farming, and pastures. Even though the military settled them into this place, they were denied government services and infrastructure and they were not connected to the national electric grid and water system, providing all services for themselves.
Then in the last decade, they started getting expulsion orders and the residents of Um Al-Hiran received home demolition orders, and a lengthy legal battle began.
After the lengthy legal discussions, the final Supreme Court result was that the orders did not constitute a violation of the right to land since they could move to nearby Bedouin town of Hura (SC Ruling 3094/11). In addition, the Bedouin town of Hura where the State is proposing to settle the residents of A-Tir and Um al-Hiran is unable to absorb them because its master plans are not adequate for its own 500 local young couples waiting to build in Hura.
Are there solutions? Yes. The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality has issued a position paper suggesting six alternatives to demolishing the villages. The residents do not want to give up on their agricultural lifestyle in favor of urban resettlement in Hura and they are also willing to remain in Um al-Hiran as a joint Jewish and Arab settlement.
On Sunday, January 31, 2016, I attended the solidarity rally in Um al-Hiran to recognize these villages. There were about 150 plus people from all walks of life, including current Knesset members, former Knesset members, local community leaders, and religious leaders. I was the American Jewish woman who joined the circle. Join me. Sign the letters and use your voice so we can change the result.
Thanks to Rabbi Arik Ascherman, President and Senior Rabbi of Rabbis For Human Rights and the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, I now have more knowledge, and will speak out with more authority. If you can take a Negev tour with them, you will see and better understand the situation. My role is firmly to protect the Bedouin community under attack. The Negev Bedouin living in unrecognized villages should be able to stay where they are and enjoy a life no different than those living in the recognized townships.
Phyllis Bernstein of Westfield, NJ is a community leader, activist and board member of Partners For Progressive Israel. Her opinions are her own.