In the southern part of Israel, known as the Negev, the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran has been slated for demolition so a new Jewish-only village called Hiran may be built in the same place. A community of Arabic-speaking Israeli citizens is to be evicted in order for Jewish citizens to live there, even though there is plenty of space in the countryside for both to live as neighbours.
The existing inhabitants have mounted a long series of legal challenges to overturn the demolition and eviction orders, and there were supposed to be negotiations on an alternative home, where they could continue their traditional culture and pastoral lifestyle. They were also willing to return to the land from which they had been evicted post 1948, but Kibbutz Shoval now stands there. They would not however accept the State’s offer of a move to Hura township, which in any case was oversubscribed.
In Nov 2016 demolition orders were issued for Umm el-Hiran, and in December villagers report the State Bedouin Authority coming to the village every day to pressurise villagers into signing agreements to leave and accept a plot in Hura township. Just one family signed up, but with the head of family collapsing and being taken to hospital. The family was required to self-demolish five stone built buildings to avoid being billed, and received less than £500 in compensation for the move. A few weeks later it was reported to be living in a tin shack with holes in it.
Further negotiations appeared to be making progress, but in the predawn darkness of 18 January, a large force of fully armed police arrived with bulldozers and other equipment. A local schoolteacher, Jacoub Al Qian, decided to drive away rather than witness the destruction of his own house, but was shot by police, after which his car went out of control running over a policeman (source: Guardian, 18 Jan). The schoolteacher was then left in the car where he bled to death in about half an hour. Jacoub’s 100 year-old father died of shock a little while after the killing.
The police immediately attempted to portray Jacoub as an IS terrorist, Benjamin Netanyahu accused him of a car-ramming attack and his Minister for Public Security, Gilan Erdan, called Umm al-Hiran’s residents violent thieves and accused Palestinian lawmakers supporting the villagers of having blood on their hands. However, all this was then rebutted by analysis of video recordings and the autopsy, and it became clear that the real culprits were trigger-happy policemen. The state attempted to impose conditions on the return of his body to the family, but thanks to a Supreme Court ruling, the funeral has now taken place. The case has caused some consternation in Israel, Amnesty called for an investigation and Haaretz demanded the resignation of Erdan and the police chief.
According to Jonathan Cook leaders of Israel 1.7 million Palestinian citizens say that the minority has long and bitter experience of police brutality, and have been enraged by what they call police lies and cover-ups and rapidy escalating rhetoric from the government.
According to Palestine Briefing, the evictions are part of a deliberate plan, the Prawer plan that is officially frozen but is still being implemented, to evict the inhabitants of 35 so-called un-recognised Bedouin villages and to move them into townships, with echoes of both apartheid-era South Africa and the 18th century clearances in the Scottish Highlands. The Bedouin have traditionally been less militant than the Arabs elsewhere Israel, with a number of them serving in the army; however, the evictions and demolitions have started to change that. The Israeli government’s policy is in effect stoking up conflict.