Demolitions spark deadly violence in Arab Israeli village

An Israeli soldier keeps watch as Palestinians sit nearby after the army entered the village of Yatta in the occupied West Bank on June 9,2016 in search for clues leading to an attack the previous night in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv ins which four people were killed and 16 others wounded. The two Palestinians assailants who carried out the attack came from Yatta, according to Israeli authorities. Israel said it had suspended entry permits for 83,000 Palestinians during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan following the shooting attack. / AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER

UMM AL-HEIRAN: Demolitions in an Arab-Israeli village activists say has been targeted by racist policies sparked violence on Wednesday, with a policeman killed and the man accused of attacking him shot dead.

A prominent Arab Israeli lawmaker was also wounded in the confrontation in Umm al-Heiran in southern Israel, where activists have long sought to draw attention to what they call the unjust practice of demolishing Arab homes.

Police said the man killed, a local resident, was active in the Israeli Islamic Movement and may have been influenced by the Islamic State organisation – a claim residents strongly denied, calling him a respected teacher.

“A vehicle driven by a militant from the Islamic Movement intended to strike a number officers and carry out an attack,” police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said in a statement. “The officers responded and the militant was neutralised.”

Later statements confirmed that the alleged attacker was dead and that a 34-year-old policeman, Erez Levi, was also killed. Village activist Raed Abu al-Qiyan named the driver as Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan, a member of his Bedouin clan. Residents said he was 47, the father of around a dozen children and owned one of five buildings being demolished on Wednesday.

“The Israeli narrative is a lie. He was a revered school teacher,” he told media. “He has no relations with the Islamic Movement. He was in his car and they shot at him from everywhere.”

The injured lawmaker heads the Joint List, a coalition of mainly Arab parties and the third-largest bloc in parliament. One of his aides said he was wounded by police, with photographs that spread online showing him with a bloodied head.

“They attacked the MP and other people – demonstrators – with stun grenades, tear gas directly in people’s faces,” Odeh’s aide, Anan Maalouf, told Israeli army radio. “There was no car-ramming attack here. There were no clashes here between the demonstrators and police.”

One activist said residents had moved their cars to the entrance of the village at around 5:00 am (0300 GMT) in a bid to block the demolition operation. Police then forced their way in and fired flares, lighting up the pre-dawn sky, according to the activist, Isaac Kates Rose, who was there at the time.

Shooting could later be heard and the sound of a car crashing, he said. At some point later, Odeh was caught up in the confrontation and wounded, activists say. Five excavators were later seen entering the village, with demolitions beginning at around 11:15 am (0915 GMT).

Security forces took up positions on rooftops and guarded the area around the demolitions, keeping residents away. Residents gathered around the village’s mosque, with women wailing as the demolitions started.

Israeli authorities regularly carry out demolitions of Bedouin homes they deem to have been built illegally. However, building permits are extremely difficult to obtain, according to residents and activists, who say Jewish Israelis are given preferential treatment.

Umm al-Heiran has become particularly symbolic, with residents having waged a years-long legal fight against demolition orders. Located in the Negev desert, the village is home to around 1,000 inhabitants who mainly live in small, concrete buildings, relying on solar panels for electricity and raising livestock.

In 2013, Israel’s cabinet approved the establishment of two new Jewish communities in the Negev, Kesif and Hiran. In order to make way for the two new towns, the Bedouin village, which is unrecognised by the authorities, must first be removed.

In 2015, Israel’s supreme court approved the removal, saying that since the residents could theoretically live in the new towns, the move did not constitute discrimination. The government says Umm al-Heiran’s residents are to be moved to the nearby Bedouin village of Hura, which is already home to some 300 families.

“The Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to allow the state to proceed with its plan to demolish the village, which has existed for 60 years, in order to establish a Jewish town called ‘Hiran’ over its ruins, is one of the most racist judgments that the Court has ever issued,” rights group Adalah, which has represented the villagers in court, said in a statement on Wednesday.