Israeli Arab human rights leader to address MPs in Commons on Monday June 1st
This is one of the most egregious examples of ethnic cleansing since the state of Israel was founded: an entire Israeli Arab village is to be demolished so that an Israeli Jewish village with the same name can be built on its ruins.
The 700 Arab residents of Umm Al Hiran have lived in the village for nearly 60 years, having been ordered to move there by the Israeli military commander of the Negev who gave them a lease to build a village, farm the land and graze their sheep.
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled by 2-1 that the state had the right to demolish the entire village and overruled a proposal from the third judge, Daphne Barak-Erez, that the villagers should be offered a plot of land to build their own houses in the new Jewish village of Hiran.
The local court in Kiryat Gat near is expected to approve the eviction notices at the end of May allowing the Israeli Army to move in with their D9 bulldozers to clear the site.
Thirty Jewish settler families are currently living in portakabins 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 forbearance, inviting the settlers’ leader over for coffee to see if they can hammer out a compromise solution.
They told them there is no need for 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 Alkia’n for the villagers.
They point out that there is plenty of space – 3¼ 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”.
In 1956 they were forcibly moved again to 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. Life has been tough, but we worked hard to develop this place into a beautiful and wonderful village,” said the village sheikh.
Like all the other “unrecognised” villages in the Negev, Umm Al Hiran is provided with no mains electricity, no paved roads, no water, no sanitation. They have to do their best buying water from tankers and using solar panels for intermittent power.
This is not because it is remote. The Jewish Israeli owner of a dog-kennel only 800 metres away is provided with all services. The Israelis do this solely to make life difficult for Arab villagers in the hope that 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 originate from other countries. In fact it is historically verifiable that their families have lived in the Negev for hundreds if not thousands of years.
While they are all proud of their Bedouin heritage and while a few are still engaged in the traditional Bedouin occupation of sheep-farming, the village 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. Britain could play a leading role if it protested strongly enough to the new Israeli government.