The Negev Bedouin village of Al-Araqib existed before the state of Israel did, but to no avail. It has just been destroyed for the 49th time in the last 33 months, and the struggle has persisted since the Israeli military evicted the al-Turi tribe in 1951.
The first time (in recent years), Israeli soldiers and police officers bulldozed homes, farms and olive groves; since then, they have simply bulldozed ‘tents and shacks into piles of sandy rubble’. Before then (until it was ruled illegal for endangering health and lives), the state’s weapons against the community also included crop-duster planes, as they repeatedly sprayed chemicals to kill the Bedouins’ crops in order to stop them feeding themselves.
Poisoned crops, bulldozed homes
Jillian Kestler D’Amours (@jilldamours) has reported how all of the village’s remaining families now live in its cemetery because it’s ‘the only place… that has never been demolished’. Though the graveyard too has been threatened with destruction; it is at least 140 years old, so it is physical evidence that the Bedouin community is the local community, not an invading squatting force.
Starved of services, driven to indigenous reservations
Al-Araqib is one of dozens (1) of Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert that have remained unrecognised; Israel has refused to provide water, electricity, waste disposal, and healthcare and educational services to those villages’ 100,000 residents. Israel claims that it wants to integrate the Bedouins and develop their living conditions; but it wants to install them in solely Bedouin townships; and the government-approved Bedouin townships, in which another 100,000 Bedouin live, endure great multidimensional poverty.
Callous lawbreakers or callous lawmakers?
The Israeli Land Administration/Israel Land Authority (ILA) claims:
Some elements within the Negev Bedouin population seek to establish facts on the ground and steal agricultural land. Despite the fact that Israel leases land to the Bedouin at a symbolic cost, the past few years have witnessed an increase in illegal squatting and land appropriation.
Bedouin squatters only harm their Bedouin kinsmen.
Most of the land on which there are squatters has already been earmarked for being leased to Bedouin for agricultural purposes. In many cases, squatters have aggressively driven out Bedouin families that had legally leased the land.
Israel’s duty is to protect and defend its citizens. Israel cannot tolerate callous lawbreakers whose behavior is harmful to the law-abiding community. It is the state’s duty to evict squatters and restore the land to the citizens who leased it.
Yet the ILA and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) will not “return” Al-Araqib to another Bedouin community; they will replace the Bedouin village with a Jewish forest. (The JNF ‘reserves [its forests and national parks] exclusively for Jews‘.) Although the village already existed when Israel was established, Israel chose not to recognise it, then declared it an illegal settlement precisely by virtue of Israel’s non-recognition. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have conclusively demonstrated how unreasonable the Israeli authorities’ arguments are.
Historically Bedouin Atir-Umm Al Hieran or newly Jewish Hiran?
Similarly, they plan to replace the Bedouin village of Atir-Umm Al Hieran (which was itself established by Bedouin refugees whom the Israeli military had displaced from Wadi Zuballa in 1956) with a 7,000-10,000-resident Jewish town of Hiran within the JNF-planned Yatir Forest.
Facts on the ground
In reality, Israel is trying to create facts on the ground. It is trying to find a solution to the Bedouins’ ‘demographic threat‘; in repulsively dehumanising language, it is trying to find a solution to the ‘problem’ of Bedouins ‘gnawing away at the country’s land reserves’. The mukhtar of Al-Araqib (also spelled Al Arakib and Al-Araqeeb) fears that ‘they want us to be nothing else, just workers and slaves for the Apartheid society‘.
A Zionist student volunteer group, Ayalim, builds villages in the Negev (as do others). One of its founders, Dany Gliksberg, claims that ‘a Jewish majority in the Negev is essential to preserve the democratic nature of the state…. [or] “[they] will be a minority ruling a majority of non-Jews”‘. But as a member of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, Ofer Dagan, observes, ‘Judais[ing] the Negev in order to ensure the existence of the Jewish democratic state…. may serve the purpose of making it a Jewish state[, b]ut it for sure won’t be a democratic state‘.
Racist law: legalisation of forced displacement of indigenous minority communities
Similarly, the Law for the Regulation of the Bedouin Settlement in the Negev plans (recognition of 62% but) displacement of 38% of the Negev’s Bedouin communities. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) judged it was ‘discriminatory’ and would ‘legalize racist practices‘; it would ‘legalize the ongoing policy of demolitions and forced displacement of the indigenous Bedouin communities’.
Yet the Bedouin have been given five years to acquiesce to the Prawer Plan or all of their ‘claims to land become null and void’. In other words, either the narrow majority whose settlements would be recognised validate the displacement of their neighbours (2), or they get displaced as well. That is the nature of Israeli law-making; that is the nature of the legal basis for Israel’s destruction of villages and displacement of communities.
Domicide: continual war against a civilian population
Even the ILA struggled to demonise its Bedouin victims; it denounced how, ‘[i]n most cases’, the ‘callous lawbreakers’ had ‘used the land by planting crops for animal feed‘. Al-Araqib resident Hakmeh Abu Mdeighem described the experience of domicide (the destruction of home):
One feels that one doesn’t live in one’s own country anymore. One feels that a continuous war is going on between him and Israel…. [T]he state comes and fights you inside your own house, on your own ground… it destroys your house on the heads of your sons…. Everything has been destruction and more destruction, humiliating human beings, displacing people. They are not doing this only in Al-Araqib. They want to expel all the Bedouins out of Israel.
1: Different sources give numbers between 39 and 45 unrecognised Bedouin villages.
2: Even if community leaders make the decision, the decision is whether or not to acquiesce to the displacement of more than a third of their constituents.