Beduin village faces April eviction to make way for Jewish town

Residents are saying they will not leave, raising the prospect of a fresh confrontation in Umm al-Hiran a year after a house demolition operation during which two died in disputed circumstances.

Beduin women sit beside ruins from of their homes in Umm el-Hiran, which was destroyed in January 2017  (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Beduin women sit beside ruins from of their homes in Umm el-Hiran, which was destroyed in January 2017
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Residents of the unrecognized Negev Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran will be forced to evacuate it during April as part of plans to build a town on the site, the senior government official handling Beduin affairs told The Jerusalem Post.
Residents say they will not leave, raising the prospect of a fresh confrontation in Umm al-Hiran, near Beersheba, year after a house demolition operation mounted by hundreds of police during which a Beduin teacher, Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean and a policeman Erez Levi died in disputed circumstances. The demolitions were aimed at forcing residents to relocate to the nearby town of Hura.
Yair Maayan, head of the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Negev Beduin, said on Tuesday: “The Israel Lands Authority has issued eviction notices and they will have to leave during the month of April. They have to move to Hura. There is a neighborhood that has been built for them there.”
The evictions were upheld in a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that authorized the state’s plan to demolish Umm al-Hiran to make way for the new town of Hiran, which is to be populated mostly by religious Jews.
The court decision backed the authorities’ view of the Umm al-Hiran residents as trespassers on state land.
Critics of the evictions say they may be legal, but are not moral, and note that it is the second time Umm al-Hiran residents are being forced to move. In 1956, they were moved under military order and resettled by the IDF in their current location after being evicted from the Wadi Zbala area of the Negev where they were living in 1948. But they were never given title to the land at Umm al-Hiran.
“I expect that residents of the State of Israel will be law-abiding and respect the decisions of the High Court,” Maayan said.
COMMUNITY ACTIVIST Raed Abu al-Kaeean, a nephew of Yacoub, said that police have informed residents that they must leave by April 1 “or be evicted by force.” He said dozens of policemen entered the village on Monday in a follow-up to a previous entry last week. “During their entries they are planning how to make the incursion and to destroy the village. They check lookouts, entries and exits. This is the Yoav unit of the police together with commanders,” he said.
“Our feeling is one of fear and uncertainty, we are worried that what happened last year will be repeated and people will get killed,” he said.
Umm al-Hiran residents are convinced Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean, a respected educator, was shot without reason by police as he fled the demolition of his house in a vehicle, while police said he was carrying out a terrorist ramming attack. An investigation by the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Department cleared the police.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said he had no details about the recent police entries to Umm al-Hiran. “They might have gone in on a court order or because of illegal activity taking place. It’s part of routine operations.”
Raed Abu al-Kaeean said residents do not want to move to Hura, because they are unwanted by those living there and fear that their moving will start internecine fighting. “The neighborhood there doesn’t meet our needs. The residents there want it for themselves. We do not want to enter territory where there is a war.”
Abu al-Kaeean said residents are open to negotiating alternative solutions, including living alongside the Jewish newcomers, but that authorities “don’t want to speak with us.”
“Force is not what is needed here,’’ he added.
Maayan dismissed the idea that the Umm al-Hiran residents would touch off fighting by moving to Hura. “In the Beersheba municipal library there are tens of thousands of books with stories, and you can add their story. He who is good at writing fairy tales can get a prize for it, but we live in a world of Supreme Court decisions that must be upheld.
Meretz MK Esawi Frej took issue with Maayan’s stance and said the Umm al-Hiran residents should be permitted to live alongside the incoming Jews. “Why move them? Because they are Arabs? One shouldn’t differentiate between one citizen and another. A solution is needed in which they can stay in place. Any solution involving moving them is discrimination.”