Court rejects plea to delay demolition of Bedouin village
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Court rejects plea to delay demolition of Bedouin village

Judge says appeal to stave off destruction of Umm al Hiran made in ‘bad faith’ as plaintiffs waited till last minute

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

File: Members of the Arab Joint List at the Bedouin village of  Umm Al-Hiran on November 22, 2016. (Courtesy Joint List spokesperson)
File: Members of the Arab Joint List at the Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran on November 22, 2016. (Courtesy Joint List spokesperson)

The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday rejected a last-minute appeal to delay the evacuation and demolition of a Bedouin village in southern Israel that has become a rallying cry for Arab Israelis and rights groups.

Israel is seeking to move the formerly nomadic residents of Umm al-Hiran to a government-designated Bedouin township to make room for the construction of a new Jewish communal village on the land, which is owned by the state.

The court’s decision follows what protesters saw as a small victory after police suddenly delayed the demolition operation Tuesday morning. Lawmakers from the Arab Joint List party and activists from around the country had arrived at the village overnight to block the demolition.

There was no immediate word on a new date for the demolition.

Police spokesperson Luba Samri said the decision to delay was made in order “to allow the legal process to exhaust itself following a last-minute appeal to the court.”

The court struck down the appeal, filed by the Adalah legal aid center for Israel’s Arabs, saying judicial measures had already been exhausted and that plaintiffs had not acted in good faith. The court decision noted that three separate courts have considered the case, and that negotiations have gone on for years without a solution. And it said the plaintiffs did not file the request until the morning the demolition was slated to take place, despite knowing the slated date over a month and a half in advance, a sign of the appeal’s “lack of good faith.”

MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, wrote on Twitter before he court handed down its decision that the “struggle” to prevent the destruction of the village would continue.

The Bedouin village of Umm al Hiran in Israel’s Negev Desert, Aug. 27, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
The Bedouin village of Umm al Hiran in Israel’s Negev Desert, Aug. 27, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

“A night of solidarity in Umm Al-Hiran with activists from around the country, Arabs and Jews… prepared to stand hand-in-hand in front of the bulldozers. The eviction was postponed; the struggle continues,” Odeh wrote.

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

The Bedouin villagers have been told they would receive 800-square-meter plots in the nearby town of Hura, built by the government in 1989 specifically to absorb and urbanize Bedouins from the surrounding unrecognized villages and tent encampments.

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 were being offered viable alternatives and could theoretically live in the new town as well.

Protesters attend a Land Day demonstration in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. (Courtesy Joint List)
Protesters attend a Land Day demonstration in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. (Courtesy Joint List)

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

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 in a show of solidarity.

AP contributed to this report.

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