Shaiya Rothberg

Will You Stand Up For Justice In Israel?

The destruction of the village of Umm al-Hiran (planned to begin this morning) is a betrayal of the noble values of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.


Umm al-Hiran is a Bedouin village in the Negev of roughly 1,000 people. The village was established in its present location by an official order of the IDF military governor in 1956 after the villagers’ request to return to their original lands near Kibbutz Shoval was denied.

Even though we (Israel) settled them in this spot against their will, we refused to recognize their village and so denied them, for the last 60 years, the basic necessities of dignified human life such as electricity, water, roads and sewage. We also denied them town planning and building permits so that their homes are “illegal”. Now, 60 years later, after they have raised their families in this village for generations, we plan to destroy their village and build a different town called Hiran in their place. There is a group of religious Jews ready to move in.

Palestinians try to retrieve items from the rubble of his family house after it was destroyed by Israeli army tractors early on 22 February 2011 in the West Bank village of Yatta near Hebron. The house was located in the so-called Area C, a closed military zone where Israel exercises full control and was built without permission, according to the Israeli army.Photo by Najeh Hashlamoun Flash 90
This must not happen in Um al-Hiran — home demolition by Israeli army tractors early on February 22, 2011, in the West Bank village of Yatta near Hebron.(Najeh Hashlamoun Flash 90)

If you love Israel as I do, I imagine that you’re saying to yourself, “Impossible! The courts would never allow it!” I’m sorry to say it: you are wrong. Israel’s Supreme Court has failed, and then failed again, to protect Arab minorities from our sometimes brutal discrimination. Umm al-Hiran is a prime example. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s read together selections** from  an analysis of the legal decisions [here’s a link] that made this injustice possible. The analysis is by Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, professor emeritus at Hebrew University Faculty of Law and by Prof. Hanoch Dagan, professor in the Buchmann Faculty of Law at Tel-Aviv University:

In April 2004, the state submitted claims to remove the villagers from the property. During these proceedings, the state claimed that the villagers were trespassers that had not received permission to settle on the land. The magistrate court, and in its wake the district court, ruled that the villagers are not trespassers but rather received permission from the state to settle in this place.

Kremnitzer and Dagan quote from the Supreme Court Decision itself:

…the claim that [the villagers] must be removed…was based on the claim that the villagers are trespassers on the property, but in fact they received permission to be there…[furthermore] the planning bodies explained that there was no problem, in principle or in terms of public planning, to include the homes of the villagers in the town plan for [the new] town…”

So, if the villagers of Umm al-Hiran are legal residents where we put them 60 years ago, and there is no problem including their homes in the new plan, why are we planning to destroy their homes? Because the villagers, who did not know that the state planned to destroy their village, missed the deadline to submit their opposition!

That is to say: two mistakes were made. The villagers’ mistake was to miss the deadline. The state’s mistake was that after it forced the villagers to build their village where they are, 60 years ago, it then “mistakenly” decided that they were trespassers, and on that false assumption, planned to destroy their homes, expel them, and build a town for other people in their place.

Kremnitzer and Dagan:

…the laws of property in Israel (as in other states) place a special emphasis on the rights of one whose property is her home, and not just real estate. A person’s home is understood by the court, and rightly so, as an anchor of her identity and character…


[None the less, the court] adopted a severe and scholastic attitude towards the villagers for not submitting their opposition…on time. However, this mistake was much less severe than that of the state, which involved a positive act of attributing a crime (trespassing) to residents who were innocent (for they had received permission)


…it is difficult to complain against the villagers who did not understand that the state’s plans for the [new] Hiran town involved the destruction of their village even though they established their lives there with the permission of the state and [even] as there was no logistical or other problem with them continuing to live there [as was explained by the Supreme Court above].


Is it reasonable to treat people who are supposedly equal citizens of the state thus – to drag them from one place to another…and then after 60 years of settlement to destroy their village to establish another one on its ruins?

No, it is not reasonable. It is a betrayal of the noble values on which the State of Israel was founded. Unfortunately, the government of Israel is largely deaf to local opposition. The human rights defenders of Israel need your help from abroad. If you love Israel, now is the time to get involved. Click here to learn what you can do.

** The article is in Hebrew. The translation is mine. My apologies for any mistakes I made in translating the legal terminology.

About the Author
Shaiya Rothberg lives with his wife in Jerusalem Al-Quds. He is a teacher of Jewish Thought and a human rights activist. Shaiya holds a PhD from Hebrew University in Jewish Thought and a B.A. in Jewish Philosophy and Talmud from Bar-Ilan University. He made aliyah in 1988 and served as a soldier and officer in the I.D.F. Shaiya's writing and teaching focus on the transformative potential of Jewish tradition.