The village of Umm al-Ḥīrān is a Bedouin unrecognized village situated 8 km north east the town of Ḥūrah, with about 370 inhabitants. In 1952 the lands of the Abu al-Qian tribe, located in the north-western part of the Negev/Naqab, were seized for use by the Israeli army, and the inhabitants were moved to the Lahav forest, where they remained until 1956. The village was then displaced once more and the area was designated for the use of the State and the village was moved to its present location. It is named after the Ḥīrān Valley that passes near the village, as well as the adjacent Ḥīrān mountain. The area is filled with caves, which over the years have been dug in by the villagers for the use of homes and as storage.
In 2000, following a three years struggle, the inhabitants of Umm al-Ḥīrān obtained a connection to a water point about 8 km away from the village, which they were then able to use by constructing the necessary infrastructure at their own costs. In 2010 the village was disconnected from the water completely, following a series of decisions, in 2008 and 2009, to decrease the water quotas the village was allowed. The inhabitants currently carry water in tanks from Ḥūrah, at the price of 85 shekels per cubic meter. The Supreme Court had recently accepted the inhabitants’ appeal to be connected to the central water pipe to allow them to bring water to the village. However, the pipe that runs a long distance, cannot hold the right water pressure or provide sufficient water supply to the villager’s needs. There are also many explosions, which the villagers also have to pay for out of their own pockets.
The village is not connected to the national electricity grid, and its residents use solar panels that are very expensive to receive electricity. The village of Umm al-Ḥīrān has no education or health services. In order to receive these services, the residents are required to reach the town of Ḥūrah, 8 kilometers from the village, which is a 10-minute drive away. The kindergarten and school children must walk to the main road in order to receive their ride to school.
In 2003, the National Council for Planning and Building approved the founding of the Jewish settlement Hiran in place of the village of Umm al-Ḥīrān. In practice, the plan was to uproot the people of Umm al-Ḥīrān for the third time. The same year, residents of the village received deportation orders and by 2004, villagers began to receive demolition orders for their homes. In May 2015, after a long legal battle, the Supreme Court denied the Umm al-Ḥīrān residents’ appeal to cancel eviction orders standing against them. According to this decision, the State of Israel is allowed to move the residents to Ḥūrah against their will and destroy the village.
In the meantime, the Jewish group ‘Garin Hiran’ awaits the establishment of the Hiran settlement. They currently reside in the former military camp ‘Yatir’ nearby. In November 2013, the government decided to start the construction of the Jewish settlement of Hiran within 60 days, anticipating its size to be about 12,000 inhabitants. In August 2015, work to establish Hiran had started near the houses of Umm al-Ḥīrān’s Bedouin residents. By 2017, the State began to actively transfer people from the village to the town of Ḥūrah.
The residents of Umm al-Ḥīrān have ownership claims to land they had possessed in the northern Negev, from where they were removed during the 1950’s.
On April 10, 2018, after lengthy negotiations that were interrupted and agreements that were constantly changed, the State of Israel decided to transfer the people of the village by September 2018 to neighborhood number 12 in Ḥūrah. Since then, the evacuation has been delayed several times. According to a report published in the major daily Maariv newspaper by reporter Kalman Libeskind in April 2018 State officials signed one framework agreement and one detailed agreement with the residents of Umm al- Ḥīrān, in which the residents pledged to evacuate their homes and move to the recognized Bedouin township of Ḥūrah. The State pledged to grant every couple and every single person over the age of 24 a plot for construction and compensation for structures that they were forced to demolish. In addition, those who were willing to expedite the move to temporary housing while their permanent homes were being built in Ḥūrah, were to receive an additional compensation of NIS 50,000.
The detailed agreement also included a clause concerning the allotment of 70 lots to parents meant for housing for their children (minors at the time of the signing). In February of this year, a number of residents petitioned the Israeli High Court, claiming that the agreement to allot lots for minors was discriminatory as the allotment relates only to male minors and not female minors. The State Prosecutors office, in their answer to the petition set before the High Court, claimed that the case was moot because the detailed agreement in its’ entirety was void as Yair Maayan, the Commissioner of the Bedouin Authority, who signed it has no legal authority to deal with the distribution of land.
The standing of the residents, some of whom have already destroyed their homes in Umm al-Ḥīrān and have started building their new homes in Ḥūrah, remains unknown at the time of this report. This leaves the people of Umm al- Ḥīrān in a state of uncertainty regarding their foreseeable future, as the State of Israel continues to disregard its own agreements.
On January 18th, 2017, hundreds of policemen arrived at the village of Umm al-Ḥīrān before dawn, in order to demolish six structures. While the police stormed the village, Yaʿqub Abu al-Qian, a local resident took his personal belongings, entered his car and started driving away since he did not want to witness his house being demolished. As he was driving away policemen shot live ammunition at him and killed him. After being shot, Yaʿqub lost control over his car, which rolled down the hill and hit a policeman, killing him on the spot.
A new article by “Haaretz” reveals how a secret report by a Shin Bet officer who investigated the events of 2017 in Umm al-Ḥīrān, concluded that the police had failed in their handling of that operation.
Yaʿqub Abu al-Qian, who was shot to death by police during that incident, was accused by the Chief of Police and the Minister of Public Security of terrorism and of intentionally killing the police officer, Erez Levy. The officer’s report, based on evidence gathered in the field, determined that Yaʿqub Abu al-Qian did not intentionally ram over the police officer, but rather lost control of his car as a result of police misconduct. Although this report was submitted to the Ministry of Justice, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, did not mention any of its’ findings in his recent statement, claiming evidence collected showed indications of either terrorist attack or an accident. Both the former head of the Ministry of Justice Police Investigation Unit, Uri Carmel, and Nitzan’s deputy for criminal affairs, Shlomo Lemberger, opposed Nitzan’s conclusions.
Furthermore, it was revealed that after Yaʿqub Abu al-Qian was wounded by police, he was left to die without any medical care. A police physician present at the scene, claimed in her testimony that she had not seen the wounded body of Yaʿqub Abu al-Qian before he died, and therefore did not give him any medical treatment- contradicting other testimonies from the field, which stated she intentionally ignored his need for receiving medical care. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Justice internal Investigation of Police Unit and the State Prosecutor Office did not question her testimony, even though Abu al-Qian did not die immediately, but rather bled to death.
The community and its supporters have said from the start that Gilad Erdan and Roni Alsheikh blamed Yaʿqub for being involved in a terrorist act prior to investigating, and even when it was clear they were fed false information, they never apologized or taken responsibility for their reckless and inciting statements.
The events of January 2017 in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Ḥīrān are a clear example of how the policy of house demolitions is violent. This policy can only create alienation and frustration among the Bedouin citizens of the Negev whose rights are violated on a daily basis. Only a solution based on public participation and recognition of its aspirations, desires and way of life will lead to a shared space that respects and enables equal living for all residents of the Negev, Arabs and Jews alike.
*Other forms of writing: Umm al-Hiran, Um al-Hiran, Umm Alhiran, Umm al-Khiran, Umm Alkhiran