New Balad MK determined to fight home demolitions

Goumha Azbarga says liberal Israelis must safeguard the rights of the minority.

NEW BALAD MK Goumha Azbarga: ‘There is enough room for everyone in the Negev. We can’t accept that people are forcibly uprooted. (photo credit: YOUTUBE)
NEW BALAD MK Goumha Azbarga: ‘There is enough room for everyone in the Negev. We can’t accept that people are forcibly uprooted.
(photo credit: YOUTUBE)
Goumha Azbarga has a full plate of issues for when he takes up his duties as a Balad party MK on Wednesday, reflecting his background as a member of Israel’s most marginalized group and a minority within a minority. He is a Beduin Arab from the Negev township of Lakiya.
“Home demolitions, unrecognized villages, destruction of crops, education, health and master plans” are all subjects he intends to focus on as he replaces Basel Ghattas, who resigned his seat Sunday at the start of a plea-bargain agreement that will see him serve two years in jail for smuggling cellphones into Ketziot Prison.
Azbarga said Ghattas’s action was “not okay,” but it brought attention to the plight of prisoners, “a problem removed from public awareness, with people not knowing the suffering of the security prisoners.”
“But he bears the responsibility for what he did,” he said of Ghattas.
As a Balad stalwart Azbarga believes Israel’s definition as a Jewish state makes it racist.
But in his view, Arabs also need to work with elements in the Jewish community.
“There is no doubt that we want to achieve change also through liberal Jews and Jews for whom civil rights are important,” he said. “It is a basis of democracy to safeguard the rights of the minority. We need to do work on Israeli-Jewish public opinion and also on the media, which I think is mobilized in favor of the authorities.”
He also said he believes Arabs need to put their cause higher on the international agenda by working with rights groups and parliaments of democratic states. “There is a great deal to do in this respect,” he said.
In Azbarga’s view, the Negev Beduin are facing a battle for survival in the face of efforts to force them off their land and concentrate them in townships. Nowhere is this more evident in his view than in Umm al-Hiran, the unrecognized village that authorities are planning to transform into the Jewish town of Hiran in keeping with a 2015 supreme court decision.
According to that decision, the Beduin families, although forcibly moved by the army to the site in 1956, do not have title to the land.
In a bid to force the Beduin to move on the state’s terms to the nearby township of Hura, authorities undertook a demolition operation there on January 18 during which a Beduin teacher, Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean and policeman Erez Levi were killed.
While Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said Abu al-Kaeean deliberately rammed Levi in a terrorist attack, Umm al-Hiran residents said Abu al-Kaeean was shot without justification and framed as a terrorist. Media reports citing the Justice Ministry probe into the incident say investigators have found it was not a terrorist attack.
Azbarga said he is irate not only about how Abu al-Kaeean was killed and designated a terrorist but with the looming tragedy of Umm al-Hiran’s fate.
“The Beduin cannot come to terms with destroying entire villages and giving the land to settlers,” he said. “In Umm al-Hiran they weren’t coming to build a road, a school or something for public use. They are uprooting people and putting other people in their place, people who belong to another nationality.
This goes against a minimal basis of democracy and citizens’ rights.
“There is enough room for everyone in the Negev. We can’t accept that people are forcibly uprooted,” he said.
Azbarga said the decision to build Hiran in place of Umm al-Hiran “is a mistaken decision that will remain as a black mark on the history of Israeli democracy, if it is allowed to stand.”
The entire Umm al-Hiran episode, he said, is marked by “racism from the establishment.”
“No one takes responsibility and resigns. The life of an Arab in this country is not worth anything, they don’t even leave their posts, and no one says let’s stop the demolition of an entire village and stop the persecution in the Negev,” he said.
Earlier, Ghattas handed in his resignation letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. He said he did so without regret and that he had been motivated by “humanitarian motivations, concerns and morals.”
“The Knesset for me was a field for struggle and not a place of work,” he said. “I’m not sorry to leave it because other fields of struggle await me.”