Israel, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Bedouin dislocation

While the world focuses on the Occupied Territories, the plight of Israel’s Bedouin citizens has gone largely unnoticed. The Bedouin communities of the Negev (Naqab in Arabic) desert have been subject to Israeli policies of forced relocation and home demolitions, which has heightened in recent weeks. These moves have been pushed by the Israeli government to serve the interests of Jewish Israeli citizens, and have been undertaken with the support of the Jewish National Fund.
Before 1948 the Negev was home to some 65,000-100,000 Bedouins owning and cultivating 8-12 million acres of land. After the 1948 War only about 10% of the Bedouin population remained, with many Bedouins being expelled from the Western Negev, many being relocated to Gaza, and others herded into a triangle of land between Beersheva, Arad and Yeroham. In the 1960s-80s Israel created seven Bedouin townships. Today there are some 200,000 Bedouins in the Negev, with approximately 120,000 living in these townships and the rest divided among 11 recognised villages and 35 unrecognised villages. Most of these “unrecognised” villages existed prior to the formation of the State of Israel, and the rest were created by the State. For the most part they have no water, electricity or schools, and are subject to Israeli planning laws forbidding them from building structures. Over 1000 homes are demolished every year and crops destroyed [1]. In 2011 the government released the Prawer Report, proposing the transfer of 40,000 Bedouins from unrecognised villages into the seven recognised ones, without consultation of the Bedouin communities involved. Whilst mass protests prevented the plans from being executed, forced relocation of Bedouins has remained a fact on the ground and a government policy, continuing the historical legacy of dispossession and dislocation.
Umm Al Hiran
Umm Al Hiran is one of the so-called “unrecognized villages,” home to approximately 1000 Bedouin citizens of Israel. Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, members of the Abu Qi’an family lived in an area called Khirbet Zubaleh. In 1956, the Israeli military government forcibly moved the Qi’an family to Umm Al Hiran.
A new Jewish settlement, known has Hiran, has established itself at Umm Al Hiran, while the Israeli government has advanced plans to evict the village of Umm Al Hiran, in order to expand the Jewish-only settlement of Hiran. According to Adalah, an organisation providing legal counsel for the town’s residents, no suitable offer of alternative housing has been made by the government, which rejected Umm Al Hiran’s resident’s offer to live in a shared village with future Jewish residents.
Bedouins living in the Negev face repeated and devastating home demolitions and have done so for years.
Recent deadly demolition
In the first week of this year, Israel demolished the homes of 151 Palestinians, almost four times last year’s average [2]. In such a climate of increased demolitions, the village of Umm Al Hiran was next on the agenda. On Wednesday, the 18th January, a heavy police presence entered the village to begin demolitions, resulting in the tragic deaths of two people, as well as other injuries. Among the injured was MK Ayman Odeh of the Joint List, who was shot in the back with a sponge-tipped bullet, while attempting to retreat. Police fired tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets, and there were reports of live ammunition as well.
Villager Yaqub Musa Abu Qi’an was shot and died on the scene, whilst driving a vehicle. Footage, though contested, shows Yaqub driving his car at a group of police officers, resulting in the death of officer Erez Levi. According to official Israeli reports, police opened fire on Yaqub to prevent him from driving the vehicle into the group of officers. However, residents and activists maintain that the driver was shot first and subsequently lost control of the vehicle, which ran into the group of officers [3].
Fourteen structures were destroyed, and more homes and structures are slated for demolition, including the town mosque [4].
The JNF: A Key Player
While the JNF claims to work to “benefit all Israelis” [5], its execution of Blueprint Negev, a project aimed at revitalising, developing and preserving the Negev desert, clearly supports developments that benefit only Jewish citizens of Israel whilst dispossessing Bedouin Palestinians of their land. JNF forests have been planted on top of Palestinian villages and sites of significance, erasing their history from the land. JNF machinery has become increasingly used in home demolitions and construction work in Jewish settlements.
In 1963 the Israeli government reduced the amount of farmable land at Umm Al Hiran by transferring land to the JNF. Since August 2015, JNF bulldozers have been working to create the Jewish outpost of Hiran on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. JNF also supplied funding for mobile homes in Hiran.
The JNF, whilst presenting itself as a nonpartisan environmental organisation, whose main objective is the ecological improvement of the land of Israel, yields a lot of power in land usage and management. In 1960, most of the land held by the JNF (13% of Israeli land) was transferred to the newly formed government agency, the Israel Land Administration (ILA). The ILA became responsible for managing some 93% of the land of Israel. As part of this restructuring, JNF received the right to nominate 10 of the 22 directors of the ILA, allowing for increased powers of land management by the JNF.
The AJDS deplores the ongoing dispossession and dislocation of Bedouins from their lands and the demolitions of their homes and village structures. The fact that this group of Israeli citizens are being forcibly moved to make way for Jewish settlements is an appalling reflection of Israel’s undemocratic policies and evident racism, which goes against international standards of basic human rights.
We further petition JNF-KKL to divest the generous donations from Jewish communities and individuals around the world of Palestinians dispossession, and to cultivate environmental projects and social practices that benefit all of Israel’s citizens, as well as Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. We implore you to actively address the discrimination and marginalisation of Palestinian and Bedouin communities.
Sign this petition by Amnesty International:
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