The older I get the more I feel I need to make a connection and be part of something. So I sit at home and wonder if it’s too late to do right by the Negev Bedouin, to rebuild what was demolished.
When the state neglects Arab-Bedouin citizens for years, seeks to relocate them and build a new Jewish community on their former land, then refuses to enter into a dialogue with the residents to arrive at an appropriate realistic solution, it raises serious questions about justice, morality, and public policy.
Israel has an obligation to take care of its minority citizens — an obligation that comes from its democratic values and its Jewish ones. Leviticus says there shall be one law for you and the stranger alike; if Israel is to be a Jewish and democratic state, it must treat all its citizens equally.
Tragically two people, an Israeli policeman and a Bedouin schoolteacher who was an Israeli citizen, were killed on Jan. 18, during government-ordered home demolitions in Umm El-Hiran, a village in the Negev that is unrecognized by the state.
I want to tell you about Yaacub Musa Abu Alkayan, a 47-year-old teacher, married to Dr. Amal Abu Saad, a lecturer in Kaye College in Beersheva, brother to the principal of a school in the Bedouin village of Hura, brother to an educational supervisor in the Ministry of Education, uncle to one of the women working in the Hura Women’s Catering enterprise, and father of 10 children.
According to authorities, Yaacub purposely rammed his car into a group of policemen overseeing the demolitions in his village, killing one of them. Within minutes the police determined that his was an act of terror and he was identified as an ISIS sympathizer, but according to witnesses, Yaacub was driving away from the predawn demolition site when his car went out of control and rammed into the police. Video from the scene was cited as proof of the police narrative. I saw the video and I can’t tell what happened.
The real question is why was Umm El-Hiran being demolished in the first place? Last year I went to the village to protest the government’s forced evacuation of some 1,000 people in 150 housing units, land it would use to establish a religious Jewish settlement called Hiran and to expand the Atir forest.
In 2015 Israel’s Supreme Court acknowledged that the residents of Umm El-Hiran and Atir were not trespassers on state lands, and recognized their right to be there. At the same time, however, the court accepted the claim that the state has the right to decide what to do with the land it owns, including evicting the residents. Empowered by the court’s ruling, the government decided to evacuate the community to make way for Hiran and relocate the residents to the nearby Bedouin town of Hura, which doesn’t have an established plan to provide sufficient housing for exiled people.
The government’s decision was made without consulting or entering into talks with the residents or the local leadership, but the Bedouin of Umm El-Hiran and Atir proposed a compromise: make their village one of the neighborhoods of the new Jewish town, designated ultimately for 25,000 residents. Their proposal was rejected.
Why now? In December, the government agreed that the West Bank outpost of Amona would be evacuated, as it was illegally built on Palestinian land, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear he would increase the rate at which illegally built Arab homes in Israel proper are demolished, to show that Jews and Arabs are treated “equally” under the law. But you can’t compare the situation of Amona to Umm El-Hiran.
The Bedouins got the short end of the stick again the same week, when the government froze a major plan for economic development of the Bedouin Negev region after it insisted the plan must be pre-conditioned by enforcing the demolition of illegal building.
It is very difficult for me to believe that such things might happen to my fellow human beings, that human beings could treat each other in such a way. I wonder how would God feel toward this kind of treatment? I am fiercely loyal to Israel, having traveled there more than 50 times, but it’s past time we find a solution for our interactions with the Bedouin community.