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Israel Demolishes 15 Houses in Umm al-Hiran | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Bedouins cry following the destruction of houses on January 18, 2017 in the Bedouin village (AFP)

Tel Aviv, Ramallah – Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, was injured in the head by Israeli police during the demolition operation in Umm al-Hiran.

The operation resulted in the destruction of 15 houses, death of an Israeli policeman and a school teacher, injury of 27 persons, and a large number of arrests.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Odeh to inquire about his condition. The president also offered his condolences for the “martyrdom of Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan”, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), condemned the crime and the attack on the town.

Umm Hiran is a small town in the Negev resided by numerous members of Qiyan family. Israeli authorities have been trying for a decade to deport all residents in order to establish a Jewish settlement of the same name.

The town has been subject to repeated violations and invasions, including destruction of property, and on November of 2013, Israel decided to build a Jewish settlement on lands belonging to the villagers.

Residents of the town had anticipated the demolition especially when Israeli police destructed 11 houses in Qalansawe a week ago.

MK Odeh visited the town earlier and tried to reach an agreement with the families to provide shelters for them. He also called Israeli Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan and reached an agreement but Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused it and insisted on demolition.

“We were in negotiations until late into the night and I was part of the negotiations. We nearly closed all of the details. We reached a compromise that the residents of Umm al-Hiran accepted. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already marked the Arab population as public enemy number one, cruelly decided to destroy an entire village, to shoot and kick men, women, and children,” he said.

“I call for the establishment of a state investigative committee to look into all of the events of the past few days,” he added.

A thousand Israeli soldiers and officers, accompanied by several armored vehicles and bulldozers, invaded the village, in the Negev, and started demolishing homes and structures. When the residents and MK Odeh protested, the police began assaulting them.

The events led to clashes between the soldiers and locals in the village, and the army used what it calls “riot control measures,” wounding 27 Palestinians, including MK Odeh, who was shot with rubber-coated steel bullets in his head and back, and was moved to Soroka medical center.

According to villagers, Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan, a known mathematics teacher, tried to drive his jeep away when the soldiers shot the man and killed him. This led him to lose control over his car and ram a police officer.

Israeli police claimed this was an intended ramming incident, describing this as an “ISIS terrorist operation.”

Locals at the scene denied the Israeli allegations, and said Qiyan did not intentionally struck the officer with his car, and that he just lost control of his vehicle after the police fired at it. They added that once Qiyan heard the news, he quickly took out the valuables from his home and brought them into his car. He was shot and left for three hours to bleed to death.

A Jew citizen who supports the Bedouins of Negev said that Yaqoub was shot before he rammed the police officer.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, MK Odeh said that the Israeli PM ordered this operation to cover his corruption case. He explained that the agreement with the ministers was to put the demolition operation on hold for few days.

Odeh added that the residents agreed to the settlement terms even though it wasn’t fair for them, but they wanted to avoid further confrontations. But Netanyahu wanted this to please the settlers especially that he is being investigated for corruption.

Netanyahu and his ministers described the incident as a victory over terrorism. They claimed that Israel is a state of law, adding that this incident won’t stop them from imposing the law everywhere.

The PM even asked the Arab MK to take responsibility and stop inciting violence.

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, a division of the Knesset, called for an emergency session and declared three days of mourning in Palestinian-majority towns and villages in Israel following the deadly raid.

The committee also called for Palestinian citizens of Israel to launch a general strike on Thursday, and for teachers to discuss the recent events in Umm al-Hiran with students.

Mohammed Baraka, chairman of the Committee, argued that Benjamin Netanyahu bears the responsibility for what happened, accusing him of fanning fires because of his own problems. He called international community to impose international protection on Arab people.

“I warn Netanyahu not to lead to more bloodshed and total destruction,” Baraka said.

Erekat accused the Israeli government of reacting to attempts by the international community to achieve peace between Palestinians and Israelis by escalating a policy of “racism, ethnic cleansing, and the evacuation of indigenous Palestinians from their lands, in a desperate attempt to Judaize the country.”

He called attention to the estimated 1.7 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who “are living amid the racist system of Israel,” adding that the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Israeli city of Qalansawe had “continued in Qalandiya refugee camp yesterday and in Umm al-Hiran today.”

Erekat stressed that the international community’s silence towards Israeli actions only bought time and immunity for Israel to commit more crimes, adding that the situation “requires an immediate and urgent international intervention to stop this chaos before it’s too late.”