Israeli authorities announced yesterday that the residents of Umm Al-Hiran, an "unrecognised" Bedouin village in the Negev targeted for demolition, have signed a relocation agreement.
But local residents and rights activists decried the deal as effectively signed under duress, in light of authorities' declared intention of destroying the village to make way for a new Jewish community.
According to the agreement, Umm Al-Hiran residents will be relocated "to a community adjacent to the Bedouin town of Hura", which must take place by September. They will also receive (an unspecified) amount of compensation for their current homes.
Haaretz cited a source "involved in the negotiations", who said they were conducted late Tuesday night, and involved the commander of the police's Southern District.
The chair of the Umm Al-Hiran residents' committee, Ra'ad Abu Alkiyan, told Haaretz that the villagers signed the pact because they had no alternative.
I would have been satisfied to remain in my home, but this agreement means there are no more losses, no more crying mothers, no more blood and no more pain.
Salim Abu Alkiyan, another resident, said: "We signed this agreement with tears in our eyes", adding, "We didn't want another disaster."
"There were no negotiations. It was a forced signature," he told Haaretz, saying that officials told residents:
If you don't sign, we'll come to demolish.
Salim told Haaretz "that in recent weeks police forces arrived in the village several times to tour it."
"Pressure was tremendous," he said. "We were traumatised, in the past three weeks we've been under threat day by day."
In March, Israeli authorities declared that they would carry out forced evictions of the village's residents by the end of April. Last year, hundreds of police officers stormed the village, shooting to death local maths teacher Ya'akub Abu Alkiyan as he was driving.
Adalah – The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, who has represented residents of Umm Al-Hiran for 15 years during their legal battle, decried "the most extreme and patently illegitimate pressure from Israeli authorities" applied to residents during "recent negotiations".
Adalah described "the demolition of Umm Al-Hiran and forced displacement of its residents as an act of extreme racism, embodying Israel's colonialist land policies with the backing of the entire Israeli court system."
"Israel is moving forward with the destruction of Umm Al-Hiran in a plan – reminiscent of the darkest of regimes such as apartheid-era South Africa – to build a new Jewish-only town on its ruins."
Salim told Haaretz: "We felt humiliated…There's no law in the State of Israel, there's aggression."
Thanks to Ofer Neiman for translation.