Only five months after dismissing the demolition threat to an Israeli Arab village as “a planning matter”, the Foreign Office has sent out a team of officials to “deepen their understanding” of the constant risk of demolition faced by Bedouin villages in the Negev desert.
The team visited the village of Umm Al Hiran whose residents – who are all Israeli citizens – face the threat of demolition of their homes and eviction to make way for a new Jewish-only village on exactly the same site and with the same name – Hiran.
The Foreign Office team also visited other “recognised” and “unrecognised” villages in the Negev and noted the restrictions on construction in government-planned Bedouin towns and the unequal provision of services to communities of different ethnicities in the Negev.
The Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood, who had dismissed Umm al Hiran as a “planning matter” in March, acknowledged the help of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality in arranging the visit in a written answer to St Albans MP Anne Main. Haia Noach from the NCF visited London to speak to the Foreign Office last month.
The issue was raised in March by Andy Slaughter MP who told the minister: “Replacing an Arab village with a Jewish village is not a planning matter. The new village of Hiran will occupy exactly the same land as the existing village of Umm Al Hiran. There is no proposed change of use. The only difference will be that the residents are Jewish and not Arab.
“What is unusual about Umm Al Hiran is that they plan to put the Jewish settlement in exactly the same spot as an existing Arab village and they even plan to use the same name. This makes it transparent that there is no genuine planning issue. It is simply a part of the clearances of Arab villages to make way for Jewish settlements.”
Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) asked the Foreign Secretary what the outcome was of his Department’s visit to Um-il-Hiran and Ateer; whether he plans to visit that region; and if he will make a statement.
Mr Tobias Ellwood: “Officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and our Embassy in Tel Aviv visited three Bedouin communities in the Negev, including Um al Hiran, on 5 August. This visit, arranged through the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), deepened our understanding of the constant risk of demolition faced by both recognised and unrecognised Bedouin villages; the restrictions on construction in even Government-planned Bedouin towns; and the unequal provision of services to communities of different ethnicities in the Negev. We remain concerned about this situation and will continue to work with partner countries, to address the inequalities.