Will they or won’t they and when? This has been the question being raised constantly over the past few weeks about Israel’s intention to expel the Bedouins of Um Al-Hiran village in the Negev.
Their expulsion and the demolition of their village were to take place on Tuesday 22 November following an announcement by the Israeli Land Authority. A last minute appeal to the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court was rejected. In the event, the demolition order was postponed by police who claimed it was “to allow the legal process to exhaust itself following a last-minute appeal to the court”. However, it may also have been due to a show of solidarity by activists and members of the Knesset who spent the night there and possibly international pressure.
Responding to a parliamentary question on the day the demolition was to take place, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said: “I have raised with the Israeli Ambassador the concerns expressed in the House of Commons about plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran in the Negev. Demolition orders delivered to residents had stated that initial demolitions would occur on 22 November. Although the demolition did not happen yesterday, the threat remains.”
However, rather than call on Israel to end the threat to the village and to connect it to the services Jewish communities expect, he simply called on “the Israeli authorities and Bedouin community to work together to find a solution that meets the needs and respects the rights of the people affected. This should include a robust planning process that adequately consults and addresses the needs of Israel’s Bedouin communities.”
The “planning process” the British minister refers to has already determined that a settlement for Jews only would be built on the ruins of Um Al-Hiran. To add salt to the wound, the new Jewish settlement would be named Hiran.
Um Al-Hiran is not the only village facing demolition. It is one of approximately 40 Bedouin villages which Israel does not recognise and has refused to provide with the necessary services. They are home to 85,000 of Israel’s 170,000 Bedouin citizens and, while the majority were moved to the Negev from their original locations in 1948, some of the villages predate the creation of Israel.
Another village, Al-Araqeeb came to prominence after Israel destroyed it repeatedly. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. In June of this year, it was demolished for the 100th time while its residents were observing the month of Ramadan and therefore fasting from sunrise to sunset.
The Bedouin community in the Negev has been under threat of eviction from their villages for a number of years. Their plight was sealed in 2103 when the Prawer-Begin bill was approved by the Israeli Knesset with 43 votes for and 40 against. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and claimed that it would result in the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of Israel. It argued that if fully implemented “it will result in the destruction of 35 “unrecognised” Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.” Israel claimed the plan would provide the Bedouins with economic development and they would be better integrated into Israeli society.
The Prawer-Begin Plan was “halted” when one of its architects, Beni Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to halt progress on the bill just before the end of 2013. Significantly, Begin admitted that contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouins with the plan and thus did not receive their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without consultation with them. However, to this day it is not clear whether the bill was shelved or postponed.
It seems though that by targeting individual villages for demolition, Israel is continuing with its plan on a village by village basis. It is also continuing with its plan to populate the Negev with Jewish only communities, including five new settlements that will be constructed on the sites of the “unrecognised” Bir Hadaj and Katama villages.
The situation for Bedouins in the West Bank, who do not hold Israeli citizenship, is similar in many ways to their counterparts with Israeli citizenship. They number approximately 50,000. Their insecurity is particularly highlighted in “rea C, the part of the West Bank under both security and administrative Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords. Here, small communities living often in temporary structures have their structures destroyed by the Israeli army.
In July of this year, a leaked letter from eight European ambassadors to Israel representing Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and Norway protested the confiscation by the Israeli army of shelters for two “vulnerable” Bedouin communities. The letter claimed “these confiscations, as well as previous demolitions, compounded by the inability of humanitarian agencies to deliver relief items to the affected households, create a coercive environment that potentially pressures them to leave their current sites against their will. “If that scenario materialises, the UN expresses its concern that it may amount to forcible transfers, which are considered a grave breach of international humanitarian law.”
Another example of life as a Bedouin in the West Bank is reported here.
Israel has also developed plans to expel Palestinian Bedouins from their current villages East of Jerusalem to a “new town” without their knowledge or any consultation with them. The town would accommodate about 12,500 Bedouin from the Jahalin, Kaabneh and Rashaida tribes and would be located near Jericho in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank. The arrogance of the colonialist Israeli state is exemplified by its claim the proposal “suits the ‘dynamic changes’ Bedouin society is undergoing as it moves from an agricultural society to ‘a modern society’ that earns its living by commerce, services, technical trades and more.” It does not seem to have consulted the people in question about whether they agree with this or not and what kind of future they see for themselves.
And so it seems the Bedouins that have inhabited historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, for far longer than Israel has existed, moving from one area to another as and when they wished, must now accept a future determined for them. Whether the state whose citizenship they hold in the Negev or their illegal occupier in the West Bank, Israel treats the Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions for them which in reality suit its colonialist agenda. How else does it explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish only settlements? This is pure discrimination and racism rather than “development”.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.