Deal reached between state, residents of demolished Bedouin village
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Deal reached between state, residents of demolished Bedouin village

80 families displaced from Umm al-Hiran will see new neighborhood built for them in nearby city of Hura

Israeli police (foreground) gather in the unreocgnized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Israeli police (foreground) gather in the unreocgnized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The residents of the partially demolished Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran reached an agreement with the government on Monday that would see a new neighborhood built for them in the nearby city of Hura in the Negev.

Umm al-Hiran was the site of regular clashes between residents and police over the court-ordered removal of the village and the residents’ repeated rebuilding of it in recent years.

According to a Channel 2 television report Monday, the government said a deal has been reached between the residents and the state’s Bedouin Authority to provide five years of temporary housing for the 80 families displaced from Umm al-Hiran in Hura, during which a permanent neighborhood for them would be build in the city.

The temporary site would be ready within three months, according to Yair Maayan, head of the authority, who reported on the agreement to the southern district planning committee of the Interior Ministry, which oversees urban planning in that part of the country.

The Umm al-Hiran case is seen by many Bedouin Israelis as a symbol of what they view as Israeli government neglect and racist land-use policies that seek to dispossess the Bedouin in favor of Jewish towns in the region. They point to a government plan for the establishment of new towns and villages across the Negev that includes the establishment of one Jewish village, to be called Hiran, close to the site of the removed Bedouin one.

Government planners have countered that the Bedouins’ semi-nomadic lifestyle — many live in unplanned, ever-growing, semi-permanent encampments — is unsustainable given their quickly growing population. The roughly 300,000 Israeli Bedouin are currently believed to be the fastest-growing distinct ethnic community in the world. The government has pursued policies that seek to urbanize and modernize Bedouin communities, including an effort to consolidate their encampments into planned towns.

The debate has been marked by deep distrust of government efforts, and occasional bursts of violence as police forces arrived at villages and encampments in the country’s south to carry out demolition orders.

Police officers clash with a Bedouin man following a protest against home demolitions in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Police officers clash with a Bedouin man following a protest against home demolitions in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Tensions reached a fever pitch following a deadly January 18 incident at Umm al-Hiran, when police arrived to oversee the demolition of homes there.

As officers converged on the village, Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, 47, a teacher and father of 12, packed a few belongings into his SUV and drove from his house, telling friends that he did not wish to witness its destruction. Soon afterward, the vehicle with Abu Al-Qia’an at the wheel rammed into a group of police officers, killing 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34.

Abu Al-Qia’an was fatally shot by police.

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)
Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and the police asserted that Abu Al-Qia’an was a terrorist inspired by the Islamic State group.

The charge was vehemently denied by his family, who argued that he was shot before his car sped up, leading him to lose control of the vehicle. Activists and others said police had used excessive force, pointing to what they claimed was institutionalized racism against Arabs, including Bedouin.

Police officer 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34, who was killed in an alleged car-ramming attack at Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (Courtesy)
Police officer 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34, who was killed at Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (Courtesy)

Video footage that emerged in the hours after the incident showed that the officers fired before Abu Al-Qia’an accelerated, and that, contrary to police assertions, the car’s lights were on. In addition, Channel 10 reported in January that a police autopsy indicated that a police bullet hit him in the right knee, smashing it. The bullet wound may have caused Abu Al-Qia’an to lose control of his car, the TV report said.

An investigation also revealed that Abu Al-Qia’an died of an internal hemorrhage after he was left bleeding in his vehicle for 20 minutes instead of being taken to a hospital.

The initial findings from the Police Internal Investigations Department did not point at any evidence to support the claim that the incident in Umm al-Hiran was a terror attack, and also determined that police officers did not act according to protocol.

Although Erdan subsequently admitted it was “possible” he was mistaken, the minister said he would only apologize if the final report by the Internal Investigations Department showed he had been wrong in his assessment.

According to a radio report earlier this month, the officers involved are not expected to be charged in the death of Abu Al-Qia’an.

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