For the past few days many have been falling over themselves to apologize, after the “expose” of what we already knew: Yaakub Abu Al Qian was not a terrorist. After all of the apologies, it is high time for the residents of Umm Al Hiran to be treated justly. They are currently “neither here nor there” and saddled with heavy debts because the state has serially reneged on every agreement it has signed with them. In this month of Elul, as the High Holy Days approach, we should heed the words of Maimonides, “Interpersonal transgressions, such as injuring or cursing or stealing, are never forgiven [by God] until the transgressor gives his/her fellow what s/he owes him/her and appeases him/her. (Mishna Torah: Hilkhot Teshuvah 2:9)
Having been present in the village on that terrible morning and advocating for Umm Al HIran both before and after the tragedy, I know that the clearing of Abu Al Qian’s name removes a huge burden and affront from the hearts of the residents. However, apologies alone do not address their true problems. Some of those who have apologized profusely are in fact those who continue to support policies dispossessing Israel’s Negev Bedouin citizens in general, and Umm Al Hiran in particular. We must not forget that Abu Al Qian was killed that morning, after negotiations over the future of the village were cut off at midnight. Hundreds of police officers with drawn automatic weapons invaded the village in a military style operation, in order to secure the village for demolitions.
The true way to honor Abu Al Qian’s memory is to end the policies that led to his death.
Umm Al Hiran is located where the state moved the Abu Al Qian tribe in 1956. The elders recall that an officer named Haim Tzuri showed them where the State was requiring them to live, and delineated which lands were for agriculture, pasture and residences. He promised that here they would be able to rebuild their lives. They did so, with little help from the State of Israel.
However, since 2002 Umm Al Hiran has been fighting plans to evict them and build a Jewish community on the rubble of the non-Jewish one. They were open to being a neighborhood in the new community, to moving back to their traditional lands, or to creating a new agricultural community. The one thing they didn’t want was to be herded into a township and forced to give up their way of life. The courts did not offer them relief. In an article by professors Mordechai Kreminitzer and Hanoch Dagan published by the Israeli Democracy Institute they argue that the Israeli Supreme Court decision acknowledged that the State was evicting them even though the State placed them there and that there were alternative ways to build the proposed Jewish community.However, the Court refused to intervene because procedurally they appealed too late. Kremnitzer and Dagan conclude by asking whether the state would treat citizens considered to be equal in this way. Clearly the answer is “no.” Since the founding of the state, successive governments have sought to dispossess our Bedouin citizens of their lands and concentrate them in townships.
In 2016 there were negotiations attempting to find a solution, but in December the state turned to threats and eviction orders. Ahmed Abu Al Qian and 30 members of his family “voluntarily” moved to Hura, after being threatened with fines of tens of thousands of shekels if they didn’t “self-demolish” their homes and move. They had to sell most of their flock, and now live in substandard tin shacks, flooded by the winter rains penetrating their roofs. The tragic deaths of Yakub Abu Al Qian and Erez Levy took place in the context of the state acting to force the “next batch” of residents to leave, when they refused to submit to threats.
Despite the anger and mistrust, the residents resumed negotiations with the Bedouin Authority and police. They agreed in July 2017 to create a new village on the outskirts of the Hura township, but Authority director Yair Ma’ayan canceled the agreement in December 2017.
In April 2018 the residents were forced to sign a new agreement moving them to the township, some of them dragged to the police station until they “agreed.” Until this day, the Authority has not fulfilled many of its obligations according to that agreement. Most seriously, the residents incurred huge debts when they hurried to begin building because they were told that they would be evicted by force if they didn’t move by August 2018, but never received the funds promised in the agreement. The Authority didn’t secure the required building permits. In addition, the agreement didn’t provide enough new housing for the all of the residents. Some families lack plots. This has led to internal conflicts among family members, as well as with the veteran residents of Hura who wanted these plots for their children. Three family members even went to court against the agreement.
Deputy Attorney General Erez Kaminitz wrote to the High Court that Yair Ma’ayan had no authority to sign the agreement. In June 2019 the state unilaterally imposed a third arrangement leaving the residents with 30 fewer plots. Needless to say, Um Al Hiran is opposed.“Adonai, who may dwell in Your Tent….One…who stands by his/her oath even to his/her detriment.”( psalm 15: 1,2, 4) Yet, in the name of Israel’s war against her citizens, we uprooted the Abu Al Qian tribe from their lands, moved them to Umm Al HIran, decided to violate our commitments by expelling them again, reneged on agreements time and again, and have left them destitute and with no clear future. Will we continue to wage this war against the Bedouin community, or do teshuvah (answering God’s Call, turning and returning to our truest and highest selves)? Maimonides teaches “What is complete teshuvah? When we have the opportunity and ability to commit the same transgression, and refrain from doing so.” (Mishna Torah: Hilkhot Teshuvah 2:1)The time has come to honor the memory of Yakub Abu Al Qian z”l by acting justly towards his living family members.
The writer, a rabbi, is executive director of Torat Tzedek – Torah of Justice. He is the recipient of the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund’s Human Rights Prize for 5779