Don't build Jew-only towns on the rubble of Bedouin villages

A child in one of the 'unrecognised' Bedouin villages of the Negev desert, Israel: an Israeli citizen, but one less equal than others. Photo: Physicians for Human Rights - Israel via Flickr (CC BY-SA).
A child in one of the 'unrecognised' Bedouin villages of the Negev desert, Israel: an Israeli citizen, but one less equal than others. Photo: Physicians for Human Rights - Israel via Flickr (CC BY-SA).
Israel's government is now free to expel 1,200 of its Bedouin citizens from their 'unrecognised' villages in the Negev desert, following a Supreme Court decision not to hear their appeal. Now only one thing can save the Bedouin, their communities and their way of life: an international outcry.
We call upon the Government of Israel to recognize all of the Negev's 'unrecognized' Bedouin villages, and build a just and humane Israel, a model of Jewish-Arab mutual respect and comity that affirms the Image of God in all its fellow citizens.

The last legal hurdle preventing the immediate expulsion of the Bedouin residents of Um Al-Hiran and Atir was removed last week (17th January) when Israel's Supreme Court refused to rehear the case.

The Israeli government is now preparing to demolish the two 'unrecognized' Negev Bedouin villages of Um al-Hiran and Atir, and to forcibly resettle their 1,200 inhabitants, who are non-Jewish citizens of Israel, to the overcrowded township of Hura.

The government plans to build a Jewish community, to be called Hiran, on the rubble of the homes of their fellow citizens in the Bedouin village of Um al Hiran. On 23rd August 2015, bulldozers began the work. Nearby, the government plans to expand the Yatir forest to overrun the Bedouin village of Atir.

On November 22, 2015, the Israeli government approved the establishment of five more Jewish communities in the Negev, two of which will be built where Bedouin villages already exist. This decision means that many thousands of Israeli Bedouin citizens will be forced from their homes into impoverished urban townships.

The new Jewish community of Daya will be built on the ruins of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al-Katamat, which is home to 1,500 people, while the new Jewish community of Neve Gurion will be built on part of the land of Bir Hadaj, a recognized Bedouin village with approximately 6,000 residents.

For the government, there's only one solution: explulsion

The residents of Um al-Hiran are willing to live side by side with their fellow Jews in an integrated community, or in adjacent communities. They would be happy to return to their ancestral lands where they lived before Israel moved them to their current locations in 1956.

But the Israeli government is currently offering them the one solution they do not want - forced relocation to a township where the mayor himself has testified that there is no room for them.

Even as violence rages across the land, the Israeli government continues this work, bringing closer the day when these villages will be razed to the ground and their Bedouin residents forced out so that Jews can move in.

We call upon the government: Do not allow the majority to trample the rights of the minority. Fulfill the promise of Israel's Declaration of Independence to "ensure complete equality of social and political rights for all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender." The Negev has room for all of its people; Jews and Arabs can live there in peace and tranquility, building a thriving Negev together.

Why doom the Negev's Jewish and Bedouin residents to live in perpetual conflict, anger and distrust? Rather than take the kivsat harash, the one little lamb (II Samuel 12:1-8) of Israel's most impoverished citizens, we urge the government to live up to the noblest values of the Jewish tradition, honoring the Torah's repeated command not to mistreat non-Jews as Jews were mistreated (Exodus 23:9).

We call upon the Government of Israel to recognize the communities of Um al-Hiran, Atir, Al-Katamat, and all of the Negev's 'unrecognized' Bedouin villages, or sit down with them as equal citizens and find another solution together; build a just and humane Israel, a model of Jewish-Arab mutual respect and comity that affirms the Image of God in all its fellow citizens.

Expelled and resettled in 1956, but never recognised

The inhabitants of the Negev Bedouin villages of Um al-Hiran and Atir, members of the Abu Elkian Bedouin tribe, are facing their third expulsion by the Israeli government since the founding of Israel. The government moved them in 1956 to their current villages, after previously expelling them from their ancestral lands.

Here they were promised that they could make new lives for themselves. Starting from scratch on barren land, they built villages and were employed by the government to plant and tend the Yatir forest that now threatens to engulf Atir.

The government has never provided them with water, electricity, roads, clinics or schools, for they are two of the Negev's 35 'unrecognized' Bedouin villages. They have managed without any of the benefits countries provide to their citizens. But now they have one simple request: "Don't uproot us again."

They are particularly opposed to being moved to Hura, one of the townships the government has prepared for the Bedouin. Living in Hura means giving up their way of life.

The mayor of Hura, one of the mayors most friendly to the government, has said that the township simply does not have room for all of the additional people that the government wishes to move there. Forcing tribes to live together in crowded conditions and destroying their social fabric leads to crime and conflict, exemplified by Hura's high murder rate.

The desert is empty - why build on top of us?

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel has made clear his intention to revive the Begin-Prawer Bill that would lead to the demolition of dozens of 'unrecognized' Negev Bedouin villages, force tens of thousands of people from their homes into townships, and dispossess the Bedouin of most of their remaining lands.

Israel has recognized most of the Galilee's 'unrecognized' villages, proving that when there is a will there is a way. Northern Bedouin identify with the state, while Negev Bedouin are filled with anger and rage.

The premise of the Begin-Prawer Bill is that the Negev Bedouin have no legitimate land claims. Whereas the Ottomans, British and pre-state Zionist movement recognized the Bedouin land ownership system, today Israel does not.

The fact is that most of the Negev is uninhabited, and many more Jews could live there without displacing or dispossessing the Bedouin. If all outstanding Bedouin claims were to be recognized and honored, they would amount to only 5.4% of the Negev.

On the first day the bulldozers tore into their land, frantic villagers pointed to the surrounding empty vastness and asked, "Why on top of us?"

Prime Minister Netanyahu has the ability and the responsibility to stop this injustice. Only a massive outcry of public concern offers the possibility of keeping the Bedouin in their homes.



Write to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin asking them to uphold the historic right of Israel's Bedouin to remain in their homes, and to recognise their villages.

Also on The Ecologist: 'Israel's Forest of Yatir to expand over Bedouin village'.

The Jewish Coalition for the Bedouin of Um al-Hiran and Atir in the Negev is an ad hoc group of ideologically diverse Jewish and other organizations, both American and Israeli, who oppose the demolition of these Bedouin villages, the forced relocation of their residents by the Israeli government, the building of new Jewish communities and the planting of a Jewish National Fund (JNF) forest on their ruins. We believe that the government should recognize and develop these and other 'unrecognized' Bedouin villages, or find another solution that is acceptable to the Negev Bedouin and treats them as equal citizens.

Lead sponsors of the Coalition include Rabbis for Human RightsT'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and the Jewish Alliance for Change/Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice. For inquiries,


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