Israeli court says Arab village must make way for Jewish town

Palestinian minority fears decision will revive legislation to drive tens of thousands of Bedouin off their lands in Negev

Israel’s Palestinian minority is preparing to hold a “day of rage” to protest against a court ruling last week that cleared the way to destroy an entire Bedouin village so that it can be replaced by a Jewish town.

The Israeli Supreme Court’s decision marks the end of a 13-year legal battle by the 800 villagers of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev (Naqab) to prevent the establishment of the town on the site of their current homes.

The new town — also to be called Hiran — is expected to include 2,500 homes designated for ultra-nationalist religious groups closely identified with the settler movement.

Bedouin leaders and human rights groups criticised the judges for upholding what they termed “racist” government policies that gave weight solely to the housing needs of Israel’s Jewish population.

Fadi Masamra, director of the Regional Council of the Unrecognised Villages (RCUV), a body representing dozens of embattled Negev communities like Umm al-Hiran, said the village’s destruction would be viewed as a major assault on Bedouin rights.

“This is as clear a case of ethnic cleansing as one could imagine — and the courts have given their assent,” he told Middle East Eye. “The government is determined to clear us from as much of our land as possible and force us into ghettoes.”

Eviction for tens of thousands

There are widespread fears that the ruling will reopen the door to controversial legislation requiring the destruction of 36 Bedouin villages in the Negev the state has refused to recognise.

The Prawer Bill was put on hold by Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government 17 months ago following mass protests by the Palestinian minority, which comprises a fifth of Israel’s population.

Tens of thousands of Bedouin face being uprooted and forcibly moved into a handful of government-planned towns in the Negev that are classed as the most deprived communities in the country.

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