Amidst rising tensions in Jerusalem and elsewhere, there was some cause for optimism in the Negev during the festival of Sukkot. Several dozen Arabs and Jews gathered in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran for a Sukkat Shalom, a symbolic peace tent that was both a protest and an affirmation of Jewish-Arab solidarity.”
The government moved the Bedouin villagers of Umm al-Hiran to their current location in 1956 as part of an effort to prepare the Western Negev for Jewish settlement. Despite the move, it did not officially recognize the new village, meaning that the government does not provide basic infrastructure and services such as electricity and water, health care, and education. Today, the villagers are again being threatened with uprooting – this time to the crowded Bedouin town of Hura, where hundreds of young couples are awaiting housing. The government has approved the building of a Jewish community called Hiran on the current village’s land. Court cases brought by NIF grantee Adalah and the villagers have so far failed. Roads for the new Jewish town are being paved.
“Moussa can’t live here, only Moshe can?” asked Raed Abu Elkian, a member of the Umm al-Hiran Committee.
Shatil Associate Director Naomi Schacter, who attended the Peace Tent event, wrote in the Times of Israel that the government’s policy “…highlights the ongoing callousness, double standards and missed opportunities of our leadership.” She calls on the government to use this opportunity to create side-by-side Jewish and Bedouin communities on the land as a “model of justice, shared society, and vision,” echoing the desire of village residents.
MK Dov Khanin (Hadash) addressed the crowd saying he would promote legislation to prevent the destruction of the village. “The threat of the destruction of Umm al-Hiran symbolizes a great danger,” he said. “A whole village that will be uprooted and destroyed simply because its resident are Bedouin Arabs. Simply because specifically in this place, and not on the adjacent hill, they want to establish a Jewish town. If this happens, it will teach that any injustice can happen here. We have to cry out to stop this injustice.”
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) also spoke, saying that the silence around the village’s destruction is as great as the injustice.
Organized by Shatil together with the NIF-supported Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, the Umm al-Hiran Committee, AJEEC, Adalah, Sidre, Rabbis for Human Rights, and others, the day included activities for children, dialogue, and joint prayer. Busses from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were funded by NIF.
“NIF and Shatil work for a shared society in Israel and in the Negev,” said Shatil Negev Director Sultan Abu Abaid. “This gathering reflects the values of a shared society. The destruction of Umm al-Hiran and the displacement of its residents does nothing to promote a shared society.”