Israel refuses to recognise Palestinian villages it plans to confiscate

Israel doesn’t recognise 35 Palestinian Bedouin villages, giving them pretext to uproot communities from their land.

An Arab Israeli woman sits next to ruins from her dwellings which were demolished by Israeli bulldozers in Umm Al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in Israel''s southern Negev Desert
An Arab Israeli woman sits next to ruins of her home that was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers in Umm al-Hiran, on January 18, 2017 [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

​Naqab Desert – Israel is building a town exclusively for Jewish Israelis. To do so, it is building over homes it destroyed in Umm al-Hiran, a Palestinian Bedouin village in southern Israel.

In January 2017, security forces stormed the village to bulldoze homes and evict inhabitants. They killed a resident, Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan, accusing him of attacking the forces with his car which spun out of control when they shot at it.

Most of the villagers were forced to leave their land and relocate to Hurra, a larger Bedouin village nearby, leaving tracts of destruction behind for Israel to “claim” after it had caused it.

But some 200 people refused to leave their homes and remained in Umm al-Hiran, which is one of 35 towns “unrecognised” by Israel.

“We’re fighting for our rights,” said Mourad Mohamed, 23, Abu al-Qiyan’s nephew. “We’re hoping to eventually come to an agreement with the government … to remain here.”

Neglected and ignored

About 120,000 people are living in “unrecognised” villages across the desert, predating the existence of Israel.

Bedouin women react to the destruction of their homes on January 18, 2017, in Umm al-Hiran [Menahem Kahana/AFP]

Umm al-Hiran is an exception since Palestinians moved there in 1956 after they were uprooted from their villages during the Nakba –  their forced expulsion during the creation of Israel in 1948.

Since then, Israel has continued confiscating Palestinian land, including from Bedouins with Israeli citizenship.

The government uses the “unrecognised” status to deny basic rights and services to these villages as well as to justify confiscations, residents and activists told Al Jazeera.

On February 27, as Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel voted in municipal elections across the country, Palestinian Bedouins from “unrecognised” villages were not allowed to vote.

Khalil Alamour, a Bedouin activist from the “unrecognised” village of  al-Sira, said such towns do not belong to a municipal district. The government instead views them as public land – denying private ownership and giving them legal cover to confiscate properties at any time.

The precarious legal status of “unrecognised” villages denies them municipal services, as well. In Khan al-Sira, al-Amour said residents have compensated by installing solar panels for electricity and arranging their own garbage collection.

Women, residents of the Umm Al-Hiran, a Bedouin village which is not recognised by the Israeli government, hold banners during a protest in Israel''s southern Negev desert
Palestinian women from an ‘unrecognised’ village in the Naqab protest against home demolitions [Reuters]

While Alamour is thankful and proud that his village and community are self-sufficient, he still fears that the state could evict them at any time.

“We never know [if they might choose to build a Jewish settlement here]. It’s always possible because we are not part of the planning system,” he told Al Jazeera. “Nobody [in the government] takes our opinions into account. That’s the problem.”

In 2006, Alamour nearly lost his house when police authorities issued a demolition order against him and other residents in al-Sira.

Alamour contacted human rights lawyers and activists who went to court on his behalf, where they argued that the state was unnecessarily destroying a village to build a new airport.

Alamour did not expect the court to rule in their favour. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) from 2008, most Bedouin landowners give up challenging demolition orders since no Israeli judge had ever ruled to protect an “unrecognised” village.

But al-Sira proved to be an exception. The legal battle lasted six years, but Alamour and his community eventually won.

Khalil al-Amour sits next to his son Mohamed in their unrecognised village Khan al-Sira. [Mat Nashed/Al Jazeera]
Khalil al-Amour sits next to his son Mohamed in Khan al-Sira [Mat Nashed/Al Jazeera]

“Other villages weren’t as lucky,” he told Al Jazeera. “After we won, I invited our lawyers, and some Jewish Israeli friends that helped us in our struggle, over to our village for dinner.”

A way of life

Palestinian Bedouins are traditionally semi-nomadic people and animal herders. But over the years, with successive limitations placed on their freedom of movement and livelihoods, most have adopted a more sedentary lifestyle and rely on agriculture to sustain their communities and way of life.

Israel has promised to provide services and legal housing to these communities if they leave their villages and move to nearby cities.

But Bedouins like Rabia Abu Ghan, 17, told Al Jazeera they are not interested in Israel’s offer. Speaking on a hill in Umm al-Hiran, he explained that the cities have high rates of crime and most of their residents live in fear of one another.

He added that his community does not want to separate or give up their way of life.

The Israeli state does not recognise the Palestinian Bedouin’s right to the land, despite the fact they hold the deeds
The Israeli state does not recognise the Palestinian Bedouin’s right to their land, despite the fact they hold the deeds [Courtesty of Bedouin activists]

“Life is much better in [Umm al-Hiran],” Abu Ghan told Al Jazeera. “We can see our children and their parents here. We can be with all of our brothers and cousins in one place. We all know each other here.”

Abu Ghan added that everyone in the village is aware that a Jewish town is being built right beside them. After the settlers arrive, he expects Israeli authorities to try to evict his family from Umm al-Hiran.

But he says they will not leave and would rather live right next to the Jewish Israeli town to stay on his land.

“We won’t make any issues with the settlers when they come, just as long as they don’t cause any problems for us,” he told Al Jazeera.

Bedouins are more likely to have issues with Israeli authorities than they do with settlers. Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, has vocally supported and advocated for the demolition of Palestinian homes, both within Israel and in occupied Palestinian territory.

More than a year ago, he posted a video on X where he celebrated the demolition of Palestinian Bedouin homes in the Naqab Desert. With Ben Gvir controlling the Israeli police, Alamour fears that he may try to destroy more Bedouin villages, including his own.

“People in our community often make comparisons [between our current situation] and the Nakba,” he told Al Jazeera. “Our people feel the threat of being kicked off our ancestral land every day.”

Source: Al Jazeera