Hundreds of protesters, Arabs and Jews, marched on Thursday, March 3, in Beer-Sheva, against the government’s plans to demolish two Arab-Bedouin villages and build a new Jewish settlement in their place.
Under a government-sponsored plan, the residents of the unrecognized Arab-Bedouin villages of Atir and Umm al-Hiran in Israel’s southern Negev Desert are slated to be evicted from their present location to allow the establishment of a new Jewish settlement, to be named Hiran, on their ruins. The government approved the plan in 2013, but its execution was delayed due to a lengthy legal battle. In January, however, the Supreme Court rejected the final petition submitted by the residents, paving the way for the demolitions to begin.
“We stand with the residents of the unrecognized villages and say to the government, we will not move from Umm al-Hiran and Atir!” declared Joint List chairman, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), during the demonstration held outside the district courthouse following the march. “Evacuation of an Arab community in order to settle a Jewish one is a red line, a severe escalation in the discrimination of the state against its Arab minority.” Odeh said that recognizing the villages, building basic infrastructure and schools, and providing medical services are basic rights of each citizen. “I urge all residents of the Negev to join us in this struggle whose success is in the interest of all who live here.” MK Dov Khenin, also of Hadash – The Joint List, spoke to the crowd and reminded them that “two additional Arab-Bedouin villages, al-Fur’a and al-Za’rura, are also slated for demolition to establish a phosphate mine.”
Michal Rotem, a spokeswoman with the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, an Arab-Jewish group that helped organize the rally, told the Chinese News Agency, Xinhua, that the residences are in immediate threat of eviction and demolition. “Tractors have already started working near the homes of Umm al-Hiran, building the new Jewish settlement of Hiran.” She added that the government’s plans call for the village of Atir to be integrated into the nearby Yatir Forest.