Facing eviction, Bedouins seek support on chic Tel Aviv street
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Facing eviction, Bedouins seek support on chic Tel Aviv street

Offering food and coffee to passersby, residents of unrecognized villages who could lose their homes plead their case on Rothschild Boulevard

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Villagers from Umm al-Hiran sit in a tent on  Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv on May 20, 2016. (Courtesy: Arab List Spokesperson)
Villagers from Umm al-Hiran sit in a tent on Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv on May 20, 2016. (Courtesy: Arab List Spokesperson)

Bedouin protesters set up a protest tent on Tel Aviv’s leafy Rothschild Boulevard on Friday, in an effort to highlight the case of two unrecognized villages whose planned demolition has become the cause du jour in Arab Israeli politics.

Passersby were invited to stop, sip strong coffee and enjoy traditional flatbread and labneh cheese, all the while learning about the contested fates of the two villages.

Umm al-Hiran, home to nearly 500 people, was established by the Bedouin Al-Qia’an tribe in 1956 in coordination with the IDF, after a nearly decade-long dispute. Following Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, the tribe members were evicted by Israeli soldiers from their homes in the northwestern Negev, near Kibbutz Shoval, and lived in various locations until finally being moved to the current site. The story of the neighboring village of Atir is much the same.

A new Jewish town called Hiran is set to be built in place of Umm al-Hiran and Atir, which will initially include 2,500 housing units. The new community will comprise mostly religious Jewish families.

A Bedouin woman attending a protest for the village of Umm al-Hiran on May 20, 2016 stands on a street in central Tel Aviv with a sign that reads, "Evacuating an Arab village in order to build a Jewish one?1?" (Courtesy: Arab List Spokesperson)
A Bedouin woman attending a protest for the village of Umm al-Hiran on May 20, 2016 stands on a street in central Tel Aviv with a sign that reads, ‘Evacuating an Arab village in order to build a Jewish one?’ (Courtesy: Arab List Spokesperson)

The Bedouin villagers were told they would receive 800-meter plots in the nearby town of Hura, built by the government in 1989 specifically to absorb Bedouins from the surrounding unrecognized villages.

Inhabitants have appealed the move through the court system, but their claims have largely been rejected, with judges saying the action did not constitute discrimination as the Bedouins could theoretically live in the new town as well.

The final appeal to the Supreme Court to keep their villages from being demolished was rejected in January.

Miriam Abu Alqiya'an, 39, a resident of Umm al-Hiran in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2016. (Courtesy: Esther Talkar)
Miriam Abu Alqiya’an, 39, a resident of Umm al-Hiran in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2016. (Courtesy: Esther Talkar)

Miriam Abu Alqiya’an, 39, a resident of Umm al-Hiran, told The Times of Israel that Hura is already overcrowded. She and her fellow villagers had asked for plots in the new Hiran community to be built where their village now sits, but their request was denied.

“Let us live together as neighbors,” she said.

Ala’a, a 20-year-old student who also lives in a village slated for evacuation, came to Tel Aviv to offer her support to the Umm al-Hiran-Atir cause.

Ala’a said the issue of home demolition and evacuation was yet another obstacle in her life as a Bedouin woman working toward a university degree, something once rare in traditional Bedouin society, but now more common.

“My sister managed to finish a four-year degree at university, but with an unstable life, it is a challenge,” she said.

Ala'a, a 20-year-old student from an unrecognized village in the Negev, came to Tel Aviv on May 20, 2016 to support Umm al-Hiran. (Courtesy: Esther Talkar)
Ala’a, a 20-year-old student from an unrecognized village in the Negev, came to Tel Aviv on May 20, 2016 to support the Umm al-Hiran cause. (Courtesy: Esther Talkar)

Speaking at the event in Tel Aviv, MK Youssef Jabareen of the Joint (Arab) List said: “There has got to be a lot of insensitivity and numbness not to think about the uprooting of 1,500 people.”

Jabareen argued the case of Umm al-Hiran is special because it undermines the usual claims made by the state before an unrecognized village is evacuated.

“The government usually raises two arguments against the Arab-Bedouin communities in the Negev: that the residents invaded the land, or that there isn’t a technical planning option to establish a legal settlement. In the case of Umm al-Hiran, neither of these hold up,” he said.

Joint (Arab) List MKs Youssef Jabareen and Dov Hanin at the Umm al-Hiran protest in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2016. (Courtesy: Arab List Spokesperson)
Joint (Arab) List MKs Youssef Jabareen (right) and Dov Khenin at the Umm al-Hiran protest in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2016. (Courtesy: Arab List Spokesperson)

Jabareen continued: “The court ruled that the residents were transferred to the area by state authorities. In addition, the fact that the authorities are planning to build a new settlement in the same place proves that local planning is an option. Under these circumstances, the facts say it all.”

Umm al-Hiran has become a flashpoint in the battle for civil rights of Bedouins in the Negev.

The villagers’ struggle was championed in 2013 by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, because of the perceived strength of their claims to the land. The courts have ruled, however, that the villagers were never given property rights to the land, but were meant to be moved there as a temporary solution.

In 2016, the two most important annual political events in the Arab Israeli calendar, Land Day and the March of Return, took place near Umm al-Hiran, as a show of solidarity.

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