From Umm el-Hiran, the future of Zionism looks bleak

Israeli authorities delay the demolition of the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran. But it’s just a matter of time. A regime that by definition privileges one national group at the expense of another, the indigenous group, has no choice but to destroy Umm el-Hiran for the benefit of the Jews waiting to move in.

A Bedouin woman enters a tin shack in the unrecognized village of Umm el-Hiran, the Negev. November 22, 2016. Residents expected Israeli authorities to demolish the entire village a few hours earlier. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)
A Bedouin woman enters a tin shack in the unrecognized village of Umm el-Hiran, the Negev. November 22, 2016. Residents expected Israeli authorities to demolish the entire village a few hours earlier. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Despite the Israel Land Authority’s (ILA) announcement that it would begin demolishing the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran Tuesday morning, in order to build a Jewish village in its place, the bulldozers didn’t show up. Instead of standing in front of the bulldozers, dozens of activists were left to watch solemnly as the residents of Umm el-Hiran removed their property from the shacks and trailers and makeshift structures they call home.

The residents of Umm el-Hiran may have been able to breathe a sigh of relief Tuesday morning, but they know the impending eviction and displacement still looms over their heads. A delay is only a delay. Perhaps the Israeli authorities changed their plans due to the large numbers of activists, journalists and politicians who showed up Tuesday. But previous experience tells us that there’s not much hope for optimism: from the moment the state sets its eyes on a piece of land on which Palestinians live — whether it’s in the West Bank or Israel proper — eviction and displacement is only a matter of time.

The magnitude and absurdity of the injustice in Umm el-Hiran’s story is nothing short of astounding. You can read the whole history here in this article by Mya Guarnieri. In short, the community was uprooted from its land in the Israeli state’s early years, moved by state authorities to its current location, and now, the same Israeli authorities are about to uproot them again in order to build a Jewish town on the ruins of their homes. The High Court of Justice rubber-stamped the whole thing. Because it is “state land,” and that state can do whatever it wants with it. Screw the people who live there.

The Jewish public in Israel is used to hearing about about Bedouin citizens of Israel trespassing and building illegally in the Negev, but that is not the case here. Construing the Bedouin as “trespassers” is problematic anyway in as much as it reflects a deep-seated racism, but it is also simply not true in Umm el-Hiran: the residents were moved to their current location by the state itself, where, as Michal Rotem noted in Local Call (Hebrew), they even helped safeguard the Israeli border with Jordan.

Residents of Umm el-Hiran packed all of their belongings and removed them from their homes in anticipation that Israeli authorities would demolish the village Tuesday morning, Umm el-Hiran, the Negev, November 22, 2016. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)
Residents of Umm el-Hiran packed all of their belongings and removed them from their homes in anticipation that Israeli authorities would demolish the village Tuesday morning, Umm el-Hiran, the Negev, November 22, 2016. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

And despite all that, for close to 60 years, Israeli authorities not only failed to register any legal status for Umm el-Hiran or recognize its residents’ right to live there, it didn’t even connect them to basic infrastructure like water, electricity, roads, sewage, nothing. The only thing the state ever did for Umm el-Hiran was to let its residents live in tin shacks, without even the most basic conditions for sustenance and survival. Now the authorities want to take even that away, in order to build a Jewish settlement in its place, called Hiran.

It is here we can see the essence of contemporary Israeli Zionism in its purest form. Originally intended to create a safe haven for Jews who were persecuted for being Jewish, the Zionist project has instead turned into an enterprise of land theft and dispossession, the sole purpose of which is to remove the indigenous people from the land and to “Judaize” it. From Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi’s transfer plan to Avigdor Liberman’s land-swap plan to Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres’s plan to Judaize the Galilee, the “formalization law” and dozens of other racist and discriminatory laws, the primary manifestation of the Israeli Zionist project today is the removal of the Palestinians from this land: physically, culturally, and nationally.

The contents of entire homes are left in piles outside of the buildings Israeli authorities said they were coming to demolish, Umm el-Hiran, the Negev, November 22, 2016. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)
The contents of entire homes are left in piles outside of the buildings Israeli authorities said they were coming to demolish, Umm el-Hiran, the Negev, November 22, 2016. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

As far as that goal is concerned, there is no daylight between the Left and Right in Israel. After 70 years of systematic displacement, there is no other way that Zionism can define itself. The instinct to displace Palestinians is part of its DNA. Even the purportedly liberal branches of Zionism believe that a regime which privileges Jews is the basic cornerstone of Zionist ideology.

Particularly at a moment in history like this, when dissidents and dissent are met with increasing persecution, it is crucial to say loud and clear: Zionism has nothing left to offer good and decent people. I don’t think that everyone who defines themselves as a Zionist is a bad person. I have a lot of Zionist friends who are very good people. But it’s time for them to recognize that what we are witnessing is not a deviation of or from Zionism; it is the only path for realizing its innermost logic. A regime defined by privileging one national group at the expense of another, the indigenous group, has no choice but to destroy Umm el-Hiran and others like it for the benefit of Hiran and the Jews waiting to move in. It is simply in its nature.

Children in the unrecognized village of Umm el-Hiran do a dance once it became clear that the demolition would not take place on Tuesday, Umm el-Hiran, the Negev, November 22, 2016. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)
Children in the unrecognized village of Umm el-Hiran do a dance once it became clear that the demolition would not take place on Tuesday, Umm el-Hiran, the Negev, November 22, 2016. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Seventy years are enough. It’s time to admit that Zionism is not a force of nature nor is it anyone’s destiny. It is a type of regime, the implementation of which is predicated on the displacement and oppression of another people. And ending the occupation is not enough: the real challenge is proposing an alternative to Zionism that fully recognizes and realizes the rights of all citizens to dignity and equality.

Doing so doesn’t require reinventing the wheel. Proposals like Balad’s state-of-all-its-citizens concept, or of a bi-national state, have been on the table for years. Before we despair out of the belief that there is no point of return, we must first put those proposals back on the public agenda, and start a serious discussion about them.

Look at these photographs from Umm el-Hiran and think long and hard about the delusion of “Jewish and democratic.” The “democracy” departed a long time ago, and the “Jewish” shrinks into itself more and more every day out of shame. It’s time to part ways with Zionism, as long as there are still people among us who don’t want to be just democratic or Jewish, but simply human beings.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.