In January 2017, the Palestinian-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran briefly captured national headlines after Israeli police officers shot and killed local resident Yaqub Mousa Abu al-Qi‘an. The incident took place as residents of Umm al-Hiran were protesting yet another round of home demolitions that were being carried out by Israeli land authorities.
Umm al-Hiran is an unrecognized Palestinian-Bedouin village located in the Wadi Atir region of the Negev Desert (southern Israel). It is home to roughly 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel. The village was established in 1956 after Israeli authorities rejected a bid from the Abu al-Qi‘an clan to return to their original homes in Khirbet Zubaleh, located in Wadi Zubaleh (northwestern Negev) near the Bedouin township of Rahat.
Residents of Umm al-Hiran were expelled from Wadi Zubaleh by Zionist forces during the 1947-1949 War for Palestine (al-Nakba) They were forced by Israeli military order first to Lagiyya (1948), and then to the Wadi Atir region (1956), where they eventually built Umm al-Hiran. Their original village lands are now part of a Jewish kibbutz (Kibbutz Shoval).
Although the people of Umm al-Hiran have faced a history of forced displacement, legal proceedings were launched against them by Israeli state/development agencies in the early 2000s in order to demolish the village and build a Jewish settlement (Hiran) in its place. The village is currently in the process of being wiped out and its residents expelled to a nearby Bedouin township (Hura), following a lengthy (and failed) legal battle against the state.
Although the Bedouin of Umm al-Hiran were forced by an Israeli military order to Wadi Atir, their village has never been formally recognized by the state. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, there are some 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. These villages are home to roughly 80,000 Palestinian-Bedouin citizens of Israel, who are under pressure to move into several Bedouin townships as part of a state campaign to contain the Arab population and “Judaize” the region.
Shortly following the shooting death of Yaqub Mousa Abu al-Qi‘an, the case of Umm al-Hiran disappeared from the mainstream headlines. This is despite the fact that the demolition/eviction process is still underway. But, Umm al-Hiran is again making the news thanks to a legal document recovered on August 7 by Adalah, the legal center for minority rights in Israel.
The uncovered document details regulations that are allegedly to be enforced by the admissions committee once the new Jewish town of Hiran is built on the ruins of Umm al-Hiran. According to the regulations, individuals applying for residency must be “a Jewish citizen or permanent resident of Israel,” as well as “religiously observant according to Orthodox Jewish values.”
While it has never been a secret that Umm al-Hiran was being wiped out for a religious Jewish community, the state has long upheld that any Israeli citizen/permanent resident was permitted to purchase/rent a home therein.
In Israel, it is legally permissible for small (mainly rural) Jewish communities in Israel to screen potential residents based on bylaws reflecting the norms of the dominant social group. Indeed, in March 2011, the Admissions Committee Law was passed, legally allowing community councils in over 400 Jewish communities across Israel (roughly 43% of all residential areas) to approve or reject residency applications based on vague criteria such as “suitability to the community’s social life.”
However, while the law (legally) opens the door for further discriminatory practices against Palestinians, there is a provision nominally prohibiting prejudicial treatment based on ethnic/racial/national identity. Discrimination based on ethnic background also contradicts commitments made by state representatives during legal proceedings that Hiran would not be “an ethnically-based town.”
It is on this basis that lawyers associated with Adalah have petitioned the Attorney General to challenge the regulations. The news/legal process is still unfolding but updates can be followed via Adalah on twitter (here and here).