On 31 July, bulldozers began ploughing a trench around the village, encircling those homes Israel intends to demolish to make way for a Jewish community.
The village lost its 13-year legal battle in May 2015, when a three-judge panel on Israel’s high court ruled that the government was authorized to demolish the village and displace its residents.
In January this year, the high court’s president Miriam Naor rejected the village’s final request for a review by broader panel of judges. Naor said, according to The Jerusalem Post, that the village’s case did not qualify as a major constitutional issue that merited a special high court panel.
Like about 40 other Bedouin villages home to 70,000 people in the Naqab, Umm al-Hiran is not recognized by Israeli authorities, leaving its 1,000 residents, who are Israeli citizens, without basic services or rights.
Violent repression of protests
When the bulldozers arrived last weekend, protesters attempted to block the heavy machinery. Police responded with force, arresting six protesters, including former Rabbis for Human Rights president Arik Ascherman and activist Salim Abu al-Kayan.
A video from the day, published by the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, a group that opposes Israel’s policies in the Naqab, shows police throwing people to the ground, punching a child before violently detaining him, and wrestling men to the ground.
Raad Abu al-Kayan, the son of Salim, told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz the police fired tear gas directly at young protesters.
Though the village has been inhabited since 1956, when the Israeli military forcibly moved Bedouins there after removing them from their original village, the court ruled they have no legal rights to it.
Israel now wants to take over the land for the use of Jews. Palestinian legal rights group Adalah calls the move a “dangerous precedent,” allowing authorities to displace residents for “the sole purpose of building a new Jewish town called Hiran on its ruins and grazing area.”
Since the court ruled the residents were not “trespassing,” a term Israel frequently employs to describe the thousands of Bedouins who live in so-called unrecognized villages, Adalah believes authorities have carved out a new justification to forcibly displace Bedouins in the Naqab.
According to Adalah, the court found that the state had “merely allowed” the Bedouin citizens to use the land, but was now within its rights to revoke such permission.
“The state is the owner of the lands in dispute, which were registered in its name in the framework of the arrangement process; the residents have acquired no rights to the land but have settled them [without any authorization], which the state cancelled legally,” wrote high court justice Elyakim Rubinstein.
A lone dissenting judge on the panel of three, Daphne Barak-Erez, argued that authorities should offer the villagers space in the new Jewish community.
Residents of the planned Jewish Hiran are currently living in trailers and temporary houses that were established in 2011 in the forest of Yatir, waiting to expand onto the ruins of Umm al-Hiran.
In a video produced by Adalah and the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality in 2013, the spokesperson for the Hiran settlers says they have received the support of the settlement department, the regional councils and the OR Movement, which seeks to settle Jews in the Naqab and the Galilee.
The video also shows that the temporary Jewish settlement was established with funds from JNF-USA, which funnels tax-exempt charitable donations from Americans to the Israeli-government-backed settlement organization the Jewish National Fund.
When asked about the difference between what is happening in the Naqab and the Hebron Hills area, the spokesperson stated, “There isn’t really any difference in my worldview but there is another worldview stating that there is a difference.”
While the Naqab is within present-day Israel and the Hebron Hills are in the occupied West Bank, the experience for Palestinians – even those with Israeli citizenship – of violent displacement for the benefit of Jewish settlers is indistinguishable.