Arik Ascherman

The Fair Umm Al Hiran Agreement Israel Reneged On

“In the framework of several meetings that took place between Benny Tefilin (representing the  Issa and Mousa groupings of the Abu-El Qian family living in the Hiran area) and Yigal Buskalia on behalf of the Bedouin Directorate in February-March 2017 and in negotiations continuing until these days……

Here is a summary of the actions that must be taken to bring about the evacuation and to achieve a solution for the families:

The family requests that the Bedouin Directorate plan and develop the area northeast of Hura close to Neighborhood 10 and the hothouses of Salam-west of route 316,(As outlined in the attached aerial photograph) conditional on coordination between all of the relevant parties …”

This is not the agreement forced down the throats of Umm Al Hiran residents this week, and that so many are crowing about. This reneged upon agreement, signed by the head of the Bedouin Directorate (Yair Ma’ayan) and a representative of Umm al Hiran in July 2017, was a fair and agreed upon solution to the sorry story of Umm Al Hiran.  Let us recall that the Jewish State decided to evict its non-Jewish citizens from the place the State had moved them in 1956, after expelling them from their pre-1948 lands.  The Jewish State now wished to build a community for Jews on the rubble of their non-Jewish homes.

The poor excuse for breaking the July agreement was that the residents had violated the agreement when they filed objections to the plan the Directorate filed for an up to ten year “temporary solution” ostensibly allowing them to develop the permanent solution they refused to reveal.  However, the signed agreement also addressed the temporary solution:

“The families request not to move to live in Neighborhood 12 (Yes, this is the same Neighborhood 12 of the Hura Township that the Jewish State is now forcing the non-Jewish residents of Umm Al Hiran into against their will. A. A.). Rather, the families request that they be moved to an area within Area 5 that has been designated for future planning for  family’s  permanent solution.  If it is possible, the director of the Directorate will work with all of the relevant parties to explore the possibility that the (temporary A.A.) move will be to the requested area.” Sources closest to the negotiations have indicated that no such effort was made.  The agreement also specifies that, if agreed upon  temporary solution was not possible, the alternative would be an area adjacent to Neighborhood 10.  However, the temporary plan submitted to the Southern District Planning commission included areas inside Neighborhood 10, precisely what Umm Al HIran residents insisted that they did not want.  They did not want to be forced into an urban setting requiring them to give up their way of life.  Neither did they want to enter into conflict with veteran residents of the Hura Township.

We thought we were going to be a “light unto the nations,” but it turns out that we are serial treaty breakers just like the others.

In Umm al Hiran this week I saw a terrifying display of raw might and power designed to cow, isolate, beat into submission and convince our non-Jewish citizens that they had no choice other than to sign an agreement forcing them to give up their way of life and enter into confrontation with fellow Bedouin.  Tuesday started with reports that a large police force was about to enter the village with the surveyors preparing for the demolition orders that were to go into effect on the 15th.  They eventually consented to make due with sending 5-6 vehicles with officers who ominously looked down upon the village from a nearby hill. Police representatives remained until the evening, making it clear that they had no choice.  If they didn’t cave in and sign immediately, the terrifying might of the Jewish State would swoop down to demolish their non-Jewish homes.  A police force, even larger than the one that invaded in January 2017 with tragic results, was being assembled. In order to avoid future tension with veteran Hura residents, Umm Al Hiran hoped that if they were forced to move to the very place that they had asked not to move, that they at least receive all of Neighborhood 12 and that compensation for Hura would be agreed upon.  They didn’t want to be perceived as stealing plots from Hura’s young residents also seeking to build homes.

It was not to be. After several days of sleep deprivation, most of the families broke down and signed in the early morning hours. From the moment that the authorities proudly revealed the agreement, the angry responses  and in some cases threats came quickly. On Thursday, police forces hounded the one family holding out….

We were powerless and starved for power for 2,000 years, but we have quickly learned how to use and abuse power. We were often betrayed.  We have learned not only to betray others, but to betray our own values.

In this week’s Torah double Torah  (In Israel we are reading Tazria-Metzorah. In other locations the portion is Shemini)  we learn that the various afflictions generally translated as “leprosy” can strike homes, as well as people.  The solution is not to tear down the home.  Neither can we pretend the problem doesn’t exist.  We must do our utmost to remove the afflicted stones and preserve the building.

A rot has entered our national home.  If we continue to aspire to be a light unto the nations, and to fulfil the opening command of the portion we will be reading when we celebrate our 70th anniversary next week, “You shall be holy,” we must remove the rot in order to save the building.  If we truly cherish our national home, than we must do what we can to remain true to its foundational principles (our foundational principles), the prophetic ideals of “freedom, justice and peace” ensconced in our Declaration of Independence.

The attitude of journalists on Wednesday was that the agreement that had been signed and reneged on was of no interest, now that the residents of Umm Al Hiran had been broken and forced to sign a new agreement. It may be too late for Umm Al Hiran,  but we must learn the lessons for the sake of others.  And, it actually isn’t too late.  If the Directorate could break one agreement against the will of Umm Al Hiran residents, surely both parties could agree to put aside an agreement that wasn’t truly agreed upon, in order to return to one that was.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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