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HRW: Arabs face imminent displacement in Israel

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Israeli occupation authorities should revoke plans to forcibly displace Arab residents from the Negev village of Umm al-Hiran, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
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The American human rights group said that the Israeli occupation is planning to force the Arabs, the indigenous Palestinian resident who remained home after the Israeli occupation of Palestine, in the village to build a new Jewish community in its place.

According to a statement by HRW, the Israeli Execution and Collection Authority on November 20, 2016, approved a request by the Israeli Land Authority to forcibly demolish two homes and approximately eight surrounding structures at the entrance of Umm al-Hiran.

HRW’s statement noted the approval followed a January Supreme Court decision not to reconsider the court’s May 2015 dismissal of a legal challenge to the demolition of the village by Umm al-Hiran residents. The residents fear this is the first step toward the displacement of all the villagers.

“The forcible eviction of Bedouin residents to make way for a new Jewish town would be a blatant and ugly episode of discrimination mirroring Israel’s unlawful settlements,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

She added: “Long after most of the rest of the world has such rejected racist policies, the Israeli government keeps building and razing communities on the basis of religion and ethnicity.”

About 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel live in Umm al-Hiran and Atir, neighbouring villages in southern Negev desert.

Israel did not respect its pledge

Israeli authorities relocated the villagers there under a 1956 agreement permitting them to live there in exchange for dropping claims to land from which they say Israeli forces expelled them in 1948.

Israeli authorities have refused to formally recognise the village, to supply basic services such as water or electricity, or to develop a zoning plan to allow residents to obtain building permits.

In 2009, Israeli authorities approved plans to use Umm al-Hiran land to build a town “with institutions intended to serve the religious Jewish community,” as the Supreme Court put it, and to be named “Hiran.” They also authorised the use of Atir land to expand the Yattir Forest.

The May 2015 Supreme Court ruling said that the land belongs to the state and that it is entitled to withdraw its permission for Umm al-Hiran inhabitants to live there, although the court rejected the government’s claim that the residents are squatters.

It also ruled that the evictions would not be discriminatory since, in principle, Umm al-Hiran residents could purchase homes in the new town. In January 2016, the court rejected a request to reconsider.

On November 20, the affected Umm al-Hiran residents received written notices that authorities would demolish their homes on November 22.

After activists gathered in the village, the police did not evict residents that day, though activists told Human Rights Watch that they had heard a police convoy was en route to the village.

80,000 Arabs live under threat

However, Adalah, a nongovernmental legal centre that advocates for Arab minority rights in Israel and represents Umm al-Hiran residents, fears that the evictions will take place before the November 30 deadline.

In a statement to Human Rights Watch, the lead Adalah attorney on the case, Suhad Bishara, said they would continue to “seek all available legal channels” to halt the displacement and support the “existential, moral and legitimate right” of the villagers to “continue living on their land.”

In conditions similar to those in Umm al-Hiran, about 80,000 Arabs live under constant threat of home demolitions in 35 villages that Israel does not recognise in the Negev.