The unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev Desert was the site of a large Arab Israeli Land Day demonstration Wednesday, a marked departure from previous years.
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an umbrella organization that includes the Joint (Arab) List, organized the demonstration in the south to highlight what it says are discriminatory polices of Israel against the Bedouin inhabitants of the Negev.
The yearly rally, organized by the High Follow-Up Committee, is usually help up north to commemorate six Arab Israeli protesters who were shot dead by Israeli security forces during mass demonstrations in 1976 against plans to confiscate Arab land in the Galilee.
Northern Israel, particularly a cluster of Arab communities in the north known in Hebrew as “the triangle,” is both the seat of the Arab Israeli leadership, as well as the site of the events that gave rise to Land Day.
Although Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, have also historically held demonstrations, these have grown smaller in the past few years.
Among the speakers at the Umm al-Hiran event was Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, who accused the government of systematic discrimination.
“In the Negev the government is carrying out an apartheid policy,” the MK said. “Arab villages have no roads, no water, no electricity and no education system. They face the twinkling lights of Jewish settlements and isolated farms. I have no other name for this thing except for apartheid.”
Striking back at the former head of the Shin Bet MK Avi Dichter, who said earlier this week that Hamas terrorists would greet the Joint List leader in heaven, Odeh said: “Dichter wants to throw me to hell but the truth is that he and those like him have thrown an entire people into hell.”
Why #Land_Day? Because 100,000 citizens live in unrecognized villages without access to water, electricity, education or healthcare
— Ayman Odeh (@AyOdeh) March 30, 2016
The MK added: “Two-thirds of our children are below the poverty line — this is hell. But we, together with all moral citizens, will struggle in that hell to build a better future for all of our children.”
MK Jamal Zahalka, speaking from a stage with a Palestinian flag, said, “No one has the right to destroy an Arab home and to build a Jewish home in its place. This is not the State of Israel, rather it is a Zionist institution.”
“We are the owners of this country,” said Zahalka, according to the Arab Israeli website Arab48. Zahalka, along with two other MKs from the Balad party, has come under fire for visiting the families of Palestinian terrorists.
The village of Umm il-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 roughly 700 residents of Umm al-Hiran are the descendants of a Bedouin clan that was removed from its original village in 1948, a site on which Kibbutz Shoval now sits.
Today, there are plans to replace the Bedouin village with a Jewish town called Hiran. According to Haaretz, the new town would have 2,400 housing units, which would be filled largely by Jews from the nearby community of Meitar.
The Bedouin villagers were told they would receive 800-meter plots in the nearby town of Hura, which was built by the government in 1989 specifically as a place to absorb Bedouins from nearby unrecognized villages.
The court said that since the Bedouins could theoretically live in the new town, this did not constitute discrimination.
The inhabitants of Umm al-Hiran refused the court’s offer, and appealed to have their case heard before a Higher Court panel. The final appeal to keep their village from being demolished was struck down in January 2016.
MK Ahmad Tibi called the village’s situation “a classic example of apartheid, in which an Arab settlement is being destroyed in order to build a Jewish one in its place.”
Israeli human rights group Bimkom estimates that there are 35 unrecognized villages in the Negev, with a population of around 60,000-70,000. Odeh estimates, however, the number to be 100,000.
Agencies contributed to this report