Demolition of Bedouin village delayed after protest, appeal
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Demolition of Bedouin village delayed after protest, appeal

Joint List politicians say rally at Umm al-Hiran led to postponement, vow to continue ‘struggle’ to keep bulldozers away; police say court must still decide on case

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 planned evacuation and demolition of a Bedouin village in southern Israel that has become a rallying cry for Arab Israelis and human rights groups was postponed on Tuesday, police said.

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

Lawmakers from the Joint (Arab) List party and activists from around the country arrived at the village overnight to block the demolition, reflecting the high profile the case has in the eyes of Israel’s Arab community.

Police did not say when the demolition would be rescheduled for.

Police spokesperson Luba Samri said the decision was made in order “to allow the legal process to exhaust itself,” following a last-minute appeal to the court,” which the police statement said “had not yet been discussed.”

The Arab advocacy group Adalah petitioned an Israeli court Monday to delay the demolition.

However, Reut Mor, a spokesperson for Odeh, said she believed the delay of the demolition was due in part to the overnight protest at the village.

MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint (Arab) List party, wrote on Twitter 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 town 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-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.

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, as a show of solidarity.

AP contributed to this report.

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