Anger and worry prevails amongst the people of Umm Al-Hayran, a Palestinian village in the Negev Desert following a decision by the Israeli Building Council to expel villagers in order to build a settlement for extremist Jews. An appeal by the humanitarian groups on behalf of the villagers was refused last week by the Israeli National Council for Planning and Construction.
Around 1,000 people will be affected by the latest bout of Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land. The District Committee for Planning and Construction in Beersheba has approved a proposal for a Jewish settlement called "Hayran" on the land belonging to Umm Al-Hayran village. This will not be the first time that the families in Umm Al-Hayran have been expelled by the Israelis. They used to live in the Zebala Valley in the Negev from where they were expelled by the nascent Israeli state; in 1956 they were uprooted again and forced to move to the site of Umm Al-Hayran. The current threat first arose in 2004, when the Israeli state accused the villagers of living illegally on state land.
Israel doesn't "recognise" villages occupied by around 90,000 Bedouin living in Southern Palestine. As a result, their homes are regarded as "illegal" by the state and they can be demolished at any time.
Residents of such "unrecognised" villages do not receive any basic services or amenities provided by the state, including electricity, proper roads, health facilities, schools or water supplies.
Commenting on the latest decision, lawyer Suhad Beshara of the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adala) said that the decision made by the appeal committee is part of the official policy of confiscating Bedouin land in the Negev. The intention is not only to provide land for Jews but also to be able to gather together the Bedouin communities in one place. According to Ms. Beshara, the authorities' decision confirms that the villagers of Umm Al-Hayran have no rights in the village to which the Israeli government itself moved them in 1956.
The Palestinian law specialist clarified that the village of Umm Al-Hayran was established in its current location by order of the Israeli military authorities in 1956 after the army expelled its people by force from their homes in the area of Zebala valley. "They have established themselves with proper homes," she said, "and they have invested all their efforts in order to resume their social and tribal lives which were shaken every time they were expelled from their land." Today, a hundred and fifty families, totalling one thousand people, live in the village, all from the Abu Alqean tribe.
"We're ready to die defending our land," said the Mayor of the village, Saleem Abu Alqeaan. "They want to expel us and claim that our buildings are illegal, and they deprive us of all services; they even denied us drinking water in order to push us to leave the village and expel us."
Mayor Abu Alqean added that the villagers refuse to accept the decision and that they will not leave their land even if the Israelis use force to expel them: "We have sworn to die on this land and we will not leave it this time, like previous times, and we will defend our land and our village with all our might and with all our means, because if they succeed in getting us out, the same tactics will be applied to other villages in the Negev which are not recognised by Israel."
Commenting on the decision of the Israelis to name the proposed settlement "Hayran", the mayor accused the Israeli government of trying to hijack Palestinian history in the area. "They want to make it look as if there is an old Israeli presence in the Negev," he added.
Knesset Member Ibrahim Sarsoor, the head of the United Arab Bloc for Reform, condemned the government's move. "This is yet another attack on the Arab presence in the Negev of the kind which has been taking place since the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948," said Sarsoor. "It poses a serious threat to the already poor relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel."
He pointed out that there is a systematic Israeli policy of uprooting the Arab presence in the Negev Desert. The latest decision, he insisted, shows how the Israeli government can act against its Arab citizens with impunity and with no just, legal or moral reason.
Stressing that the expulsion decision is "the biggest witness to the racism of Israeli governments' policies towards the Arabs", Sarsoor said that it confirms that ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population is an integral part of Israel's Zionist ideology. "In short," he concluded, "it is a policy of apartheid, pure and simple."