JERUSALEM, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Some 400 Bedouins, Arab and Jewish lawmakers marched Thursday in southern Israel, protesting the government's intention to demolish two Bedouin villages to build a new Jewish town.
Under a government-sponsored plan, the residences of the Bedouin villages of Atir and Umm al-Hiran in the Negev Desert in southern Israel are slated to be evicted to allow the establishment of a new Jewish town, named Hiran, on the ruins.
The government approved the plan in 2013 but its execution was delayed due to a lengthy legal battle. In January, however, the Supreme Court rejected the final petition by the residences, paving the way for the demolitions to begin.
"Evicting an Arab community in order to replace it with a Jewish community is a red line and an escalation of the State's actions against the Arab public," Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab-Jewish Joint List faction, said in the march in the city of Beersheba, calling on the government to keep the Bedouin residences in their place and recognize them.
The so-called "unrecognized villages" are Bedouin communities not recognized by the Israeli authorities. They do not appear on any official map and the state does not provide them with electricity, health, education, and water services. Both Atir and Umm al-Hiran are such unrecognized villages.
Michal Rotem, a spokeswoman with the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, an Arab-Jewish group that helped organizing the rally, told Xinhua that the residences are in immediate threat of eviction and demolition. "Tractors have already started working near the houses of Umm al-Hiran, building the new Jewish town of Hiran," she said, adding that Atir is planned to become part of the Yatir Forest, a nearby forest.
There are currently about 192,000 Bedouins, or indigenous Arabs, living in the Negev Desert. Most of their villages, erected before the statehood of Israel in 1948, remain unrecognized by the government and suffer from lack of infrastructure and resources.