The Cases of the Villages Atir and Umm al-Hiran
The Arab Bedouin community in Atir and Umm al-Hiran received demolition orders for their houses. The aim was to build in their place a new settlement called “Hiran”, designated for religious Jews only. The story of the villages was widely publicized after the High Court declined their petition against eviction on May 2015. The courts claimed that the lands belong to the state and therefore the Bedouin community has no legal right over them. The High Court acknowledged the fact that the housing problem of the Palestinian community in Israel is a sensitive issue involving “intense feelings and political disagreements”. But they failed to help the residents of Atir and Umm al-Hiran.
The Residents of Atir and Umm al-Hiran
The villages Atir and Umm al-Hiran are among the 36 unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel. In the district of Be’er Sheba, where the village is located, only 1% of the villages are recognized by the Israeli authorities. Atir and Umm al-Hiran are inhabited by more than 1500 men and women. Despite the fact that they were established under the order of the military governor in 1956, they were not recognized. If the Israeli authorities destroy the villages and forcefully evict their citizens, it would be the fourth time they are evicted from their homes.
The residents of Atir and Umm al-Hiran are citizens of Israel. Despite the fact that these villages have been existing for almost 6 decades, the state has consistently refused to recognize them and to provide basic facilities such as electricity and sewage.
The Offer of the Israeli Authorities
The government is planning to destroy the existing villages of Atir and Umm al-Hiran and replace them with a Jewish settlement that has a similar name, “Hiran”. Yatir forest is planned to be expanded on the land of Atir, while Umm al-Hiran will be destroyed and replaced by the Jewish settlement “Hiran”. The residents of the village will be evicted and forcefully moved to the nearby Bedouin town Hura. Hura is one of the seven Bedouin towns in Israel, all of them in the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy. Therefore, transferring the residents to a town characterized by over population, lack of basic services and extremely high percentages of unemployment and poverty, is not a significant compensation. In addition, this plan ignores the Bedouins’ political, social and historical attachment to their land.
The government failed to offer the residents suitable compensation. It did not consider integrating the residents of Atir and Umm al-Hiran into the new settlement. The reason being that they will not fit into the desired social fabric of the new national-religious residents.
House Demolitions and Forced Eviction under International Law
The authorities must respect the right to housing regardless of ethnic background, but in Israel this is clearly not the case. The Arab Bedouin community has been discriminated against for many years in the field of housing. The municipal borders, limited as they are, have not been expanded since 1948. This leaves 20% of the Israeli population with only 2.5% of the land under their ownership. The government’s plan – displacement, house demolitions and land expropriation – has a destructive effect on the basic rights of Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. These rights, including the right to a suitable standard of living, secure housing and prevention of discrimination, were specified in paragraphs 2 and 11 of the International Convention for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This convention was ratified by Israel. It obliges the authorities to ensure the rights of its residents without discrimination. The Israeli policy towards Bedouins in Atir and Umm al-Hiran also contradicts paragraph 5 of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. This convention includes the right for housing regardless of race, color, nationality or ethnicity.
During the 2014 Gaza War, it became increasingly clear that Israeli security provisions for the Naqab and its Arab Bedouin communities were ineffective at curbing rocket fire from various Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip.
According to Amnesty International’s report, Bedouin villagers in unrecognised and recognised districts had little shelter to access in southern Israel. Atiyah al-Assam and Fadi Masamra from the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) told Amnesty International that there was no co-ordination between the Israeli authorities and the Bedouin communities during the July/August 2014 hostilities, or during previous military operations in the Gaza Strip, and no services were provided to residents. The petition followed repeated requests by village residents and human rights organizations over several years for these communities to receive protection from projectiles launched from Gaza; these requests did not prompt any action by the authorities.
Both the Iron Dome missile defence system and the Home Front Command warning sirens system are designed to prioritize “strategic” installations, such as military bases and power stations, and densely populated areas. According to the military, the siren system depends on electricity; unrecognized villages and most recognized Bedouin villages are not connected to electricity, in-part due to the Israeli authorities discriminatory policies against Arab-Bedouin communities. It has led to deaths and injuries in the Arab-Bedouin communities as they are unable to even construct make-shift shelters without fear of them being subject to a demolition order by Israeli authorities.
The Standpoint of Amnesty International Israel on the Subject of Atir and Umm al-Hiran
Join Amnesty International Israel in demanding that legal status and security be granted to the Bedouin communities in the Negev, including Atir and Umm al-Hiran. All efforts to evict and resettle the residents should be canceled immediately. All demolition orders should be suspended until there is a fixed policy regarding the Bedouins in the Negev, so that Israel fulfills its obligation to prevent discrimination under international law.
The Consequences of Inaction
Non-governmental actors such as the Jewish National Fund must be held accountable. Since 1963, after the Israeli government reduced the amount of land farmed by Atir and Umm al-Hiran by transferring part of it to the JNF, the organisation has, through a policy of forestation and presenting itself as a environmental organisation, has reduced land for years. Beyond the Green Line the JNF have used sub-contractors for projects which happen at the expense of the communities there.The role of this organisation in destroying Atir and Umm al-Hiran, which will set a precedent for the demolitions of dozens of Palestinian-Bedouin villages and towns, must be brought into the spotlight of international affairs.
The policy of concentrating different Bedouin communities together will worsen the cycle of drug trafficking and crime within the urban townships and create tensions between the different tribal groups. An attempt to transform a pastoral, agricultural community into an urban proletariat stripped of land rights will not work effectively and worsen security for Palestinian-Bedouins and Israelis alike. It is an ineffective policy which will create pockets of socio-economic stagnation which when coupled with political grievances will create tensions between the state and its subjects. A surge in crime, drugs and lawlessness in urban areas will increase the security budget, give the local Israeli authorities a headache and strip a community of its historical and cultural connection to the land it has lived on for hundreds of years.The systematic targeting of the residents of Atir and Umm al-Hiran creates problems for Israel, not just the citizens it persecutes.
In eliminating the Palestinian-Bedouin presence in Atir and Umm al-Hiran, fomenting religious nationalism (as exemplified by Jewish youths hired by demolition contractors chanting to evicted residents that “This is the new Zionism!”), suffocating cooperation between like minded people and communities and harassing human rights defenders, Israel only damages its international reputation. It is well know that the leaders of Umm al-Hiran, most notably Ra’ad Abu al-Qi’an have expressed their desire to stay where they are as a part of the new Hiran town in a cooperative Arab-Jewish town. By sabotaging cooperation and non-violent means through which human rights defenders and activists are pursuing the ending the Israeli authorities plans, they plant the seeds for violent resistance and risk permanently damaging relations between Bedouin citizens and the Israeli government.