State leaves 150 Negev Beduin homeless

The police on Monday destroyed the homes of 150 Beduin living in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Huran in the northern Negev to make way for the construction of a Jewish community in its place. A spokeswoman for the Israel Lands Authority, which claims to own the land, said she would respond to queries about the demolitions on Tuesday. The residents of Umm al-Huran have lived in the village since the 1950s when they, together with the other 10,000 Beduin who remained in Israel after the War of Independence, were ordered to resettle in a restricted area of the Negev called the Syiag. In the 1970s and 1980s, the government built seven towns meant to absorb all the Beduin living in the Syiag. Today, these towns include about half the Beduin population which now numbers some 160,000. In 1997, the Beduin remaining in the Syiag established a non-governmental organization called the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Beduin Villages aimed at fighting for the rights of the villagers. Each village of at least 500 residents sent one representative to the council. Since then, the state has recognized 11 villages, most but not all of which belong to the regional council. At the same time, it has maintained its policy of getting the Beduin off the land and concentrating them in the towns it has built. Two years ago, the authorities issued eviction notices to the residents of Umm al-Huran, announcing that they intended to demolish their homes and move them to Hura, one of the towns built for the Beduin. According to Yaela Livnat-Ra'anan, an official of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Beduin Villages, representatives of the government-appointed Beduin Authority, the ILA and the police met with Umm al-Huran residents on Sunday night for the first time to discuss the expulsion. Livnat-Ra'anan charged that the two sides had agreed to continue their talks the next morning to decide how much compensation would be paid to the villagers and the logistics for moving the families to Hura. Instead, she said, the authorities arrived in the morning with bulldozers and demolished the homes. Livnat-Ra'anan said the homeless families remained in the village. The NGO Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights condemned the demolition. "Leaving hundreds of Israeli citizens without a roof over their head is a grave violation of basic human rights," the organizations declared in a statement to the press. "The government's choice of a policy of force and one-sidedness towards the Beduin population instead of responding to their needs will only worsen the problems for both the Beduin and the state."