Top Arab MK says Netanyahu nixed deal, sparking Bedouin village clash
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Top Arab MK says Netanyahu nixed deal, sparking Bedouin village clash

Ayman Odeh claims residents of Umm al-Hiran accepted a compromise hours before deadly violence erupted

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

MK Ayman Odeh (center) of the Joint List and other Arab Israeli leaders stand at the scene of fatal clashes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in which Odeh was injured, on Wednesday, January 18, 2017 (courtesy)
MK Ayman Odeh (center) of the Joint List and other Arab Israeli leaders stand at the scene of fatal clashes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in which Odeh was injured, on Wednesday, January 18, 2017 (courtesy)

The leader of the Joint (Arab) List faction in the Knesset on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of causing a violent clash in a Bedouin village during which a policeman and a local resident were killed, saying the prime minister reneged on an agreement concerning house demolitions in the community.

Home demolitions at the unauthorized Bedouin village in the Negev were disrupted early in the morning when a car driven by local schoolteacher Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an slammed into police officers, killing one officer, 34-year-old Erez Levi, and moderately wounding another.

Police opened fire and killed Abu Al-Qia’an as the protest around them deteriorated into violent rioting.

Police said the car-ramming was a terror attack, while his family claimed police opened fire on him as he was trying to drive away. Drone footage of the incident released later in the day appeared to show at least one policeman opening fire on the vehicle before it accelerated into a group of police officers.

Speaking to reporters outside the Soroka Medical Center, MK Ayman Odeh, who wore a bandage on his head for an injury he received in the protests, called for a government inquiry into the events.

“We were in negotiations until late into the night,” he said, without specifying which officials were acting on behalf of the state. “I was part of the negotiations. We nearly closed all of the details. We reached a compromise that the residents of Umm al-Hiran accepted. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already marked the Arab population as public enemy number one, cruelly decided to destroy an entire village, to shoot and kick men, women, and children.

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 in an alleged car-ramming attack at Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (Courtesy)

“I call for the establishment of a state investigative committee to look into all of the events of the past few days,” he added.

The Prime Minister’s office declined to comment on Odeh’s allegations.

Taking a more conciliatory tone, Odeh declared that “there is enough room for everyone in the Negev. Jews and Arabs.”

His office said earlier that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called him to inquire about his condition.

Hours after the early morning deaths, demonstrations flared up again as security forces moved to tear down the illegal buildings. A number of local residents from Umm al-Hiran began throwing rocks at massed cops, who responded with tear gas. Several protesters were arrested.

The village was sealed off by some 500 police officers after the violence, according to a top official in the Southern District Police. The demolitions continued within the police cordon, while officers held off many dozens of Bedouin youths from nearby villages who came to the site to protest the morning violence.

A demolished structure in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, on Wednesday, January 18, 2017 (Dov Lieber)
A demolished structure in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, on Wednesday, January 18, 2017 (Dov Lieber)

Eight homes were reportedly set to be demolished Wednesday and 70 more were not to be demolished at this stage; some reporters said Al-Qia’an’s home was one of the five. Demolition work was completed by mid-afternoon.

Lawmakers from the Joint (Arab) List party arrived at Umm al-Hiran to support the protesters and, as they tried to gain access to the village, the MKs also scuffled with police. MKs Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka, Osama Saadi, Ahmad Tibi, and Aida Touma-Sliman arrived. Saadi reportedly fainted during a face-off with police.

Police prevented anyone from entering the village, other than the MKs.

Arab Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh, who said he hit with a rubber bullet during a protest against house demolitions in the Negev town of Umm al-Hiran on January 18, 2017. Police said he was hit by a rock thrown by a protester (Courtesy/Arab Joint List)
Arab Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh, who said he hit with a rubber bullet during a protest against house demolitions in the Negev town of Umm al-Hiran on January 18, 2017. Police said he was hit by a rock thrown by a protester (Courtesy/Arab Joint List)

According to Channel 2 news, some of the residents tried to calm the situation and police held talks with community leaders in effort to end the clashes. Several of the demonstrators required medical treatment at the scene after suffering from the effects of tear gas.

During the earlier clashes Odeh, who was lightly wounded in the fighting, said a massive police force of some 100 officers “attacked the residents of Umm al-Hiran. They just fell on them, they hit me and shot at me with brutality.”

According to Odeh, he was hit by a sponge-tipped bullet, but police sources reportedly said he was wounded by a rock thrown by a protester.

The village has long been a flashpoint for clashes.

Israeli policemen stand guard as bulldozers demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, on January 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Israeli policemen stand guard as bulldozers demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, on January 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The roughly 700 residents of Umm al-Hiran are the descendants of a Bedouin clan that was removed in 1948 from its original village, a site on which Kibbutz Shoval now sits.

Today, there are plans to replace the Bedouin village with a town to be called Hiran. According to reports, the new town would have 2,400 housing units, which would be filled largely by Jews from the nearby community of Meitar.

As part of a much-criticized government urbanization plan for the semi-nomadic Bedouin encampments that dot the Negev desert, the Bedouin villagers were told they would receive 800-square meter family 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 High Court of Justice panel. The final appeal to keep their village from being demolished was struck down in January 2016.

Raphael Ahren, Dov Lieber and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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