Thousands of Arabs protested across the country on Wednesday to mark the 40th annual Land Day with a major event held in the Negev where community leaders threatened resistance to government plans to destroy an unrecognized Beduin village.
The two main events were held in the unrecognized illegal Beduin settlement of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev and in the northern town of Arrabe. Smaller demonstrations took place in the northern localities of Sakhnin, Deir Hanna, and Kafr Kana.
The first test could come if the government moves to implement the Supreme Court approval of the demolition of Umm al-Hiran and the eviction of its residents in order to build a Jewish town called Hiran.
“Destroying Umm al-Hiran would be a declaration of war against Arabs of the Negev,” Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi told The Jerusalem Post
at the event in the Beduin village.
“Umm al-Hiran is the prototype of apartheid,” said the deputy speaker of the Knesset and Ta’al party chairman, adding that Arabs could take the matter of the village to the UN.
Joint List MK and Balad head Jamal Zahalka told the Post
that “if Israeli authorities try to expel the residents from the village there will be a confrontation and people will come from all over the country to defend it.”
Zahalka emphasized that a stand had to be made in Umm al-Hiran since if it falls quietly, the government would move on to destroy other villages.
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh told the Post that it is unconscionable that the government would destroy an Arab village and replace it with a Jewish one. “It would be a terrible crime,” he asserted.
“Arab villages have no roads, no water and electricity, no education system. Opposite the villages are sparkling lights of Jewish settlements and isolated farms. I have no other name for this thing except apartheid," said Odeh.
Land Day is held March 30 every year to commemorate the deaths, in the 1976 riots, of six Galilee Arabs over a government decision to confiscate land.
The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee had decided that Israeli Arabs would protest and hold a general strike because of government house demolitions and the threat of the threat of the evacuation of unrecognized illegal Beduin settlements in the Negev.
Salim Abu Al-Kian, the head of the committee of the unrecognized villages of Umm al-Hiran and Atir, told the Post
that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “needs to recognize our settlement” to demonstrate “we are equal citizens.”
“Don’t destroy our homes to bring Jews. We will fight until the end,” he warned.
Asked if the residents of Umm al-Hiran would accept a compromise solution, he responded that it could be possible if the government first recognized the village and then negotiated over its size.
Local Sheikh Halil Abu El-Kian said that destroying the village shows there is “no democracy and no law.” Asked what would happen if the government starts destroying structures, he responded, “They destroy, we build.”
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, released a report to mark Land Day, arguing that the government exacerbated the housing shortage in Arab towns.
It said that the government made most efforts to reduce housing prices in Jewish and mixed areas. The report also said that 38,095 housing units were tendered for building in Jewish and mixed communities compared to 1,835 in Arab communities.
Raed Salah, the leader of the banned northern branch of the Islamic Movement was also in attendance and, as is usual, railed about the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
The Higher Committee, which coordinates Arab political action, is made up of Arab MKs, municipal leaders and other community figures and is headed by former Hadash chairman Mohammad Barakeh.
A knowledgeable source from the Arab sector told the Post
on Tuesday that there was a fierce internal battle over where to hold the main event and that the Higher Monitoring Committee pushed for the events to be held in Sakhnin and Arrabe.
However, the source continued, “the younger generation prefers the main protest to be held in the Negev where the biggest fight is going on over the land of the unrecognized Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran, which is threatened with destruction.”
The younger generation is more prone to activism and people who have their homes threatened are more emotional, said the source, adding that the battle has pitted communist Hadash against nationalist Balad, with the latter focusing on protests in the Negev.
Arik Rudnitzky, the project manager of the Konrad Adenauer Program at the Moshe Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University, told the Post on Wednesday that “Hadash would like to have the protest associated with past events, with the ‘traditional’ story of the Land Day in the Iron Triangle - Sakhnin, Arrabeh, and Deir Hanna.”
“Balad wants to connect the event to current developments, especially in places where the same government policies of the historic land day are implemented. This is the case of the Negev, from this point of view,” explained Rudnitzky.