Umm al-Hiran Demands Equality, Justice, and Dignity

26 January 2017

Last week, the deaths of Yakub Musa Abu al-Qian and Erez Levi rocked Israel. The government’s demolition of homes in the in the Negev Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran led to a confrontation. Amid the chaos of bulldozers, al-Qian was shot and subsequently crashed into Levi, a police officer.

Government sources immediately called it a terrorist attack, a characterization contested by eye-witness testimony and footage showing a barrage of police gunfire at al-Qian before he appears to have lost control of his vehicle and ran over Amedi. On Monday, a group of Bedouin and Jewish activists organized a convoy from Umm al-Hiran to the Knesset to demand the release of Yacoub’s body (which was being held, but has since been released and buried) and justice for Umm al-Hiran’s residents.

Since the 1980’s, NIF has been a consistent presence in the Bedouin struggle for recognition and for equal access to housing and physical and social infrastructure. And in the chronicles of Bedouin struggles, Umm al-Hiran evokes particular anguish: The government moved the residents to their current location in 1956 to prepare the western Negev for Jewish settlement. However, the new village never received official recognition and remains without access to water, proper education, and other necessities. Since 2003, the government has considered displacing residents, once again, to build the Jewish city of Hiran; and last March, the residents received a court order to evacuate their homes. Shatil has supported the community’s resistance to this process together with NIF grantees, such as Rabbis for Human Rights, Sikkuy and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

At 3:00 in the afternoon on Monday, the entrance to the Knesset was swarming with local police — some on horseback, border police, and helicopters circling above: all prepared for an out-of-control, seething protest. But the somber group of demonstrators trudging up to the lawn where the protest was to be held offered a clear contrast to the high-security welcome that awaited them. The demonstrators were chanting messages imploring the release of Yacoub’s body and protesting government actions; the placards they carried bore similar messages, and many signs simply said, “Equality” in Hebrew and in Arabic.

One demonstrator holding the “Equality” sign, Wadia Abu El Kian, a farmer from Umm al-Hiran, shared his thoughts with NIF: “Even though my house is still standing today, my neighbor’s house was demolished, yesterday – where is the justice? The government has completely failed. I just can’t understand why anyone would object to having some Bedouins living next to Jews. We breathe the same air and we have the same weather. Peace is about equality.”