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Negev Bedouin Resist Israeli Demolitions “To Show We Exist”

Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi sits with her niece in her family's tent in Al Araqib village in the Negev desert. The tent was built following the latest demolition of the village by Israeli government authorities on Jan. 14, 2015. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

AL ARAQIB, Negev Desert, Israel, Feb 20 2015 (IPS) - Lehavim Junction in the northern Negev in Israel has been the backdrop to protests against home demolitions in Bedouin localities for the past four and half years.

Every Sunday, inhabitants of the Bedouin village of Al Araqib and their supporters stand behind a large banner reading ‘Stop Demolishing Al Araqib’ in English, Arabic and Hebrew. To the rhythm of clapping hands, the younger ones shout slogans into the PA system, ‘Jews and Arabs can live together’, ‘Stop demolishing our homes’.

Last month, the ‘unrecognised’ village of Al Araqib was demolished for the eightieth time in four and half years. Despite the absence of a ruling adjudicating ownership of the lands of Al Araqib, the state is planting a forest on the Al-Turi Arab Bedouin tribe’s ancestral lands.

“Planting a forest is not in my view a reasonable excuse to demolish a village. And neither is making room for a Jewish settlement. These are racist and discriminatory excuses” – Michal Rotem, Arab-Jewish NGO Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF)

“The newspapers here don’t write about Al Araqib,” Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi, a young inhabitant of Al Araqib told IPS. “These weekly protests are a way to show that we exist. It is part of our sumoud (steadfastness), our resistance.”

Once in a while, a sympathetic driver passing the junction honks the horn in support, a sign of the niche interest that the situation of the Bedouin in the Negev still arouses in the wider Israeli public.

And yet according to a recent report titled ‘The House Demolition Policy in the Negev-Naqab’, published by the Arab-Jewish Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF) non-governmental organisation, the situation in Al Araqib is far from unique.

NCF advocates for civil equality in the Negev-Naqab and is the only NGO methodically documenting house demolitions affecting Bedouins. They counted 859 in the twelve-month period between July 2013 and June 2014

The level, it confirms, has remained virtually unchanged in the past four years and the high numbers “attest to the incompetence of the state in offering durable solutions” to the crisis affecting the region.

Since the Prawer Plan bill ‘to regulate Bedouin settlement’ was frozen at the end of 2013 following mass outcry from the Bedouin community, NCF claims that “in the absence of a legislated plan”, the government is using home demolitions as a policy to limit Bedouin land rights and still implement its vision of development for the Negev.

Naif Agele stands with his children and nephews by the ruins of his brother's house in an ‘unrecognised’ section of the township of Kuseife in the Negev desert. The house took one month to build and was demolished by government authorities in 10 minutes in March 2014. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Naif Agele stands with his children and nephews by the ruins of his brother’s house in an ‘unrecognised’ section of the township of Kuseife in the Negev desert. The house took one month to build and was demolished by government authorities in 10 minutes in March 2014. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Development for whom and at what cost is the question posed in the NCF report. “The state does not need this land for development,” Michal Rotem who co-authored the report, told IPS.

“They just want it clear,” she said. “Planting a forest is not in my view a reasonable excuse to demolish a village. And neither is making room for a Jewish settlement. These are racist and discriminatory excuses.”

Bedouins are indigenous to the Negev, are Israeli citizens and number roughly 220,000, or 30 percent of the region’s population. About 140,000 of them have been forcibly urbanised and live in seven failing townships planned by the government in the 1960s and 70s, as well as in ten ‘recognised’ villages.

The remaining 80,000 live in 40 localities that are not recognised by the state, do not appear on any map and are at constant risk of demolition, as is the case with Al Araqib.

As Rotem explained, these communities often pre-date the state of Israel but a policy of nationalisation of land turned their inhabitants into ‘invaders’ of state land. “Imagine,” she said, “a state came, legislated its new laws and declared all of the Bedouin community in the Negev criminals, that’s what happened.”

In the past forced urbanisation was offered as the only path to becoming ‘not criminals’, but today those who did urbanise have very little to show for what they gave up.

The NCF report reveals that 54 percent of all demolitions in the period assessed took place in ‘legal’ localities. This means that no provisions were made to accommodate the lifestyle or the natural growth of the Bedouin community, which has the highest fertility rate in Israel.

“This completely contradicts state plans,” Rotem told IPS. “First they tell Bedouins to live in recognised localities and then they go and demolish there too.”

Jalal Abo Bneah is a field coordinator with NCF. He lives in the ‘unrecognised’ village of Wadi Al Nam and knows all too well how these ‘contradictions’ affect people’s lives.   “For example,” he told IPS, “the government wants to move the 15,000 people of Wadi al Nam to the township of Segev Shalom. But there is barely enough space in the township for the people already living there. How is this going to work?”

Abu Bneah stressed that there is growing dissatisfaction amongst the Bedouin community with unilateral governmental plans that ignore their needs. “They show no respect for anyone. Not for the people in the recognised localities nor for the ones in the unrecognised villages. Where do they want us to go?” he asked.

Last October, the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted a number of concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Israel. For example, it stressed that the state refrain from executing demolitions based on discriminatory planning policies and that it consult Bedouins on plans regarding their future.

Abo Bneah welcomes pressure from global actors but given the current right-wing political climate in Israel, he holds little hope that change will come soon.

In the meantime, to counteract state efforts to erase the Bedouin, NCF has launched a website that seeks to set the record straight regarding the true topography of the Negev. The ‘Arab Befouin Vilages in the Ngev-Naqab’ project puts all 40 ‘unrecognised’ villages on the map of Israel, something the state has so far refused to do.

The website allows visitors to learn basic facts about each village, such as date of establishment, number of inhabitants or distance from public services and to see photos of the homes, the nature or the inhabitants. The residents themselves will soon be providing more images, especially documenting demolitions

Just like the weekly demonstrations at Lehavim, the ‘Arab Bedouin Villages project’ helps make the Bedouin more visible, their experience of state power public and their narrative of the past known, but there is more work ahead says Abu Bneah.

“There is still a lot of ignorance out there, especially among the Jewish public,” he stressed. “They still think we took the lands of the state and that is not true.”

For Mariam and the others in Al Araqib, being told by their state that the Bedouin do not exist or that they are ‘criminal invaders’ only makes their commitment to sumoud stronger. “We are here and we are not going anywhere,” Mariam said. “This is our land and, until we live, we will stay.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

 
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  • originalone

    Apartheid, alive and well in Israel. Looking at the land where the Bedouin live, planting trees? Where does the water come from? Perhaps this is some sort of engineering project, as in changing the climate? And then there’s those settlers again. Central planning, ah, the boon to failure, as we’ve seen from the cold war Soviet plans. Up setting and resettling the Bedouin peoples, seems to be what the leadership of those in power view as progress, not “ethnic cleansing”, that dirty little phrase. It seems that the human experiment has gotten off tract from perhaps what was originally viewed as providing a better life for the other Israeli citizens. This all appears to be “ironic” considering what happened to the Jews in WW2. Like it or not, they seem to be mirroring those same tactics today with the other ethnic peoples in the land. Sad.

  • US girl

    You should read more about what was done to Jews in WW2 before making statements like this. Complete ignorance does not help to solve problems.

  • jgarbuz

    My ex-mother in law (midwife/ob-gyn) delivered some 15,000 Bedouin babies in Soroka hospital in Beersheba, the first hospital the Bedouins ever saw in their history, over 15 years of her career. Some 3 or more a day. My son was was delivered there too by her in 1984. The hospital was full of Bedouin women covered head to toe with their dusty feet day and night. But the Bedouin are not exactly indigenous. Most originated in Arabia and crossed into the Negev some 250 years ago. And if the US “indians” cannot run around hunting buffalo anymore certainly the Bedouin can no longer live that nomadic life in tiny,tiny Israel for sure. They are being urbanized. There is no other choice. And “honor killings” of women has been reduced, as has polygamy, but it still goes on to an extent. Many Bedouin serve as trackers and snipers in the IDF.

  • jgarbuz

    Wikipedia Negev Bedouin

    “Most of the Negev Bedouin tribes migrated to the Negev from the
    Arabian Desert, Transjordan, Egypt, and the Sinai from the 18th century
    onwards.[24][25] Traditional Bedouin lifestyle began to change after the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. The rise of the puritanical Wahhabi sect forced them to reduce their raiding of caravans. Instead, the Bedouin acquired a monopoly on guiding pilgrim caravans to Mecca, as well as selling them provisions. The opening of the Suez canal reduced the dependence on desert caravans and attracted the Bedouin to newly formed settlements that sprung up along the canal.[19]

    Bedouin sedentarization begun under Ottoman rule[26] following the need in establishing law and order in the Negev – the Ottoman Empire viewed the Bedouins as a threat to the state’s control.[14] In 1858, a new Ottoman Land Law was issued that offered the legal grounds for the displacement of the Bedouin. Under the Tanzimat
    reforms instituted as the Ottoman Empire gradually lost power, the
    Ottoman Land Law of 1858 instituted an unprecedented land registration
    process which was also meant to boost the empire’s tax base. Few Bedouin
    opted to register their lands with the Ottoman Tapu,
    due to lack of enforcement by the Ottomans, illiteracy, refusal to pay
    taxes and lack of relevance of written documentation of ownership to the
    Bedouin way of life at that time.[27]”

    At the end of the 19th century Sultan Abdülhamid II undertook other
    measures in order to control the Bedouin. As a part of this policy he
    settled loyal Muslim populations (Circassians) from the Balkan and Caucuses
    among the areas predominantly populated by the nomads, and also created
    several permanent Bedouin settlements, although the majority of them
    did not remain.[14] In 1900 an urban administrative center of Beersheva was established in order to extend governmental control over the area.

    Another measure initiated by the Ottoman authorities was the private
    acquisition of large plots of state land offered by the sultan to the
    absentee landowners (effendis). Numerous tenants were brought in order
    to cultivate the newly acquired lands.

    And the main trend of settling non-Bedouin population in the
    Palestine remained until the last days of the empire. By the 20th
    century much of the Bedouin population was settled, semi-nomadic, and
    engaged in agriculture according to an intricate system of land
    ownership, grazing rights, and water access.[28]

  • jgarbuz

    The Bedouin are citizens of ISrael, not of Saudi Arabia. The law is equal for all in Israel. They can vote and elect representatives to the Knesset. What they cannot do is disobey the law just as US “indians” cannot disobey US laws.

  • originalone

    I didn’t say anything about Saudi Arabia, so how do you equate what I said to S.A.? As for the laws of Israel & who are its citizens, there’s no sense debating it. I suppose you can explain why Israel continues building settlements for Jews on occupied land for one?

  • originalone

    Your statement doesn’t make any sense, especially the complete ignorance bit. But tell me, how do you solve problems when one side-Israel-initiates it’s our way or nothing? I’m not going to get into a debate that is one sided to begin with. If you believe that the Israelis can do no wrong, so be it for you. The majority of the Israelis want a peaceful solution, but the various members of the governing body have other agendas, at least that’s what has been presented by them.

  • Eileen

    No citizen in any country can decide to live on land they cannot show ownership of and expect the same services as other citizens or even remain.