A high-level European delegation arrived in the Negev yesterday to investigate Israel’s demolition policy towards unrecognised villages in the region.
The delegation arrived at the invitation of the International Relations Committee of the Joint List, the alliance of the four political parties in the Knesset – Hadash, the United Arab List, Balad, and Ta’al – and the Musawa Center, The Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession based in Ramallah and Gaza. The visit was arranged in coordination with the Regional Council of Unrecognised Villages, an advocacy group which represents the Bedouin population living in the Negev desert. It follows a visit by the Joint List delegation and the Musawa Center to the European Union headquarters in Brussels at the end of last year.
The European delegation visited a number of villages during their tour, including Abu Tulul and Umm al-Hiran, both situated near the city of Be’er Sheva. Umm al-Hiran in particular has received widespread media attention as a result of the repeated demolition orders issued against it. Only yesterday, 27 March, Israel announced its intention to evacuate and destroy the village once again, a move which would leave 350 Palestinians homeless. The demolition is due to take place in April 2018.
The village of Umm al-Hiran was previously raided in January 2017, during which Israeli police shot and killed 50-year-old maths teacher Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan. Members of the delegation that visited Umm al-Hiran yesterday expressed their shock at the reality of the unrecognised villages in the Negev and were “touched” by the story of al-Qiyan and the subsequent suffering faced by his wife and children.
The delegation was accompanied by MKs Dr Yousef Jabareen, Ahmed Tibi, Talab Abu Arar and Juma Azbarga, as well as Jafar Farah, director of the Musawa Center. Ahmed Tibi explained
“We have raised these issues before the parliament in Brussels and now we follow up on the field so that the picture of demolitions, the lack of infrastructure, and exclusion and discrimination is clear.” He cited the “racist laws targeting the Palestinian Arab citizens at home” as a key factor in the continued actions by Israel against its Bedouin population.
Tibi has long called for an end to Israel’s policy of demolition, and in 2017 proposed a 10-year freeze on the demolition of those constructions deemed illegal under Israeli law. He stressed that the prevalence of these “illegal” structures in Arab communities was the result of tight Israeli restrictions on building permits and a lack of adequate infrastructure planning.
The number of demolitions undertaken by Israel has increased significantly in recent years. Official Israeli government data for 2017 revealed that 2,220 structures were demolished overall, compared to 1,158 in 2016. Haaretz said that the 2017 figure was “the highest since the state started keeping track in 2013.”