Two people were killed and several others wounded when large numbers of police officers entered the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in southern Israel, to demolish the village at dawn on Wednesday January 18th. Police fired tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets, and there were reports of live ammunition as well.
Among those wounded was a Member of Parliament and leader of the Israeli Arab Opposition in the Knesset, Ayman Odeh, whom police shot in the head and back with sponge-tipped bullets. Odeh was brought to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba in stable condition at the time of this report. The other casualties were both local residents and security forces.
Police said officers killed a resident of Umm el-Hiran, Yaqub Al Qi’an, after his vehicle struck and killed at least one officer. The police officer who was killed was named as 34-year-old Erez Levy. Local residents and activists at the scene said that Qi’an’s car veered toward the officers only after he was shot and lost control of the vehicle.
Hundreds of fully armed police arrived at Umm el-Hiran around 5 a.m., pulling drivers out of vehicles, and attacking and threatening others, according to Israeli activist Kobi Snitz, who was in the village Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Shortly thereafter, shots were heard, Snitz said, adding that he saw a white pickup truck about 30 meters from police. “They started shooting at the car in bursts from all directions,” he said, adding that only after the driver appeared to have been wounded and lost control of his vehicle did it strike the police officers.
Police reportedly sealed the village off and barred any additional journalists from entering by mid-morning.
Snitz said that state authorities had been pressuring residents to sign an agreement to leave voluntarily up until around midnight Tuesday night, but that negotiations broke down.
MK Odeh showed up at Umm el-Hiran early Wednesday morning in order to stand alongside the villagers, who were told by Israeli authorities that the demolition would take place imminently.
By late morning, bulldozers, trucks, and demolition equipment had begun preparing to clear and demolish the village.
Umm al-Hiran is one of dozens of so-called “unrecognized villages” in Israel’s south, in which approximately 100,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel live without electricity, water, and other basic services the state refuses to provide.
Here is a quick summary of this history of Umm al-Hiran: Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, members of the Abu Qi’an family lived in an area of the western Negev desert called Khirbet Zubaleh.
In 1956, the Israeli military government forcibly moved the Qi’an family to the location where they live today. (Their former land was expropriated and given to the Israel Kibbutz Shoval as agricultural land.)
This forced land “swap” is well documented in state archives, but despite the fact that the Qi’an family was settled in its current location by the state itself, its homes have never been connected to the electricity or water grids.
In 2015 Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the state can change its mind and take back the land it gave to the al-Qi’an family. On the ruins of their village Umm el-Hiran, from which they are being expelled, a new township for religious Jews will be established.
For the past few years, Orthodox Jews who will be the future residents of the Jewish village of Hiran – to be built on Umm Al Hiran’s ruins – have been waiting for their new homes at an encampment in the adjacent forest of Yatir.
“The government has no problem with Jewish citizens living on this property – so why should they have a problem with us?” Raid al-Qi’an, a resident and activist from the village, told +972 in 2015. “They allow rural communities to be built for Jews across the Negev – why not us?”
“We have always said, and continue to say, that we have no objections to Jewish families living here or nearby us – but not in place of us. That is racism and injustice,” he added.