Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Netanyahu Speaks, and a Village is Destroyed

Ethnic Cleansing in the Negev

It took 1,500 police, armed with guns and stun grenades, followed up by the bulldozers. They came at 4.30 in the morning, and by the end of the day they had arrested one woman and detained several others. About 35 homes were destroyed, as well as sheepfolds, crops and trees were ripped up, and some 300 people, including 200 kids were made homeless.

The police laughed, and gave each other victory signs, happy with the job they had done.

The argument over the law, land ownership and residence is still going on in the courts. But the village of Al Arakib is no more, destroyed in no more than three hours.

It happened yesterday, Tuesday, July 27. Al Arakib is in the northern Negev, not far from the Israeli city of Beersheba, once the Bedouin market town of Be'ersheba. Al Arakib was a Bedouin village, one of many whose existence is not officially "recognised" by the Israeli state authorities.

The day before the police operation, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had addressed a cabinet meeting, warning of `a situation in which a demand for national rights will be made from some quarters inside Israel, for example in the Negev, should the area be left without a Jewish majority. Such things happened in the Balkans, and it is a real threat.`

The villagers of al-Arakib may not have realised they constituted a "threat". Having lived as a community since well before the State of Israel was established in 1948, they were evicted in 1951, at a time when Arab areas were under military government, and many Bedouin were even deported over the border by the military.

But they quietly returned, erected their homes, raised children and sheep, and planted orchards and olive groves. Some have gone off to work in the town, even started businesses. Bedouin can be Israeli citizens, even serve in the armed forces. The soldier charged with shooting photographer Tom Hurndall was a Bedouin. But the Israeli authorities insist on telling Bedouin where they can live, refuse to recognise traditional claims on ownership and grazing rights, and by refusing to recognise villages can ignore their needs, and deny them access to the national electricity grid or piped water supplies.

A report in Ha'aretz says:
"Inspectors from the Israel Lands Administration arrived yesterday morning in al-Arakib along with large numbers of police. The ILA said the evacuation was conducted after many years of legal - and physical - battles against the Aturi tribe. The ILA said it demolished 46 illegal buildings, 11 made of cinderblock and 11 shacks. It also said it uprooted 850 trees that were transferred for replanting elsewhere.

The ILA said the Bedouin invaded the area, which is state land, in 1998 and in 2000 a court order was handed down banning them from entering the area. But the tribe moved in and planted trees. The ILA offered to rent them the land at a price of NIS 2 per dunam, but they refused to pay. The ILA received a court order to evacuate the residents in 2003 and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court".

The destruction of the village was carried out despite dispute over ownership of the land still pending in the courts. Residents of al-Arakib say this was their grandparents' land, and they are neither squatters nor invaders. They were there before the State of Israel existed. Ownership of the land is now the subject of proceedings in the Be`er Sheva District Court, where academic researchers have already testified in confirmation of the residents` ownership right in the land.

As the police began their clearances yesterday, villagers called up friends and supporters from civil rights groups, and some Israelis came to join them in passive resistance, but it was not enough to stop the massive police operation.

The village lay in a zone which the Israeli authorities have designated for Jewish settlement. But they have not even got any settlers waiting to occupy it. The plan is for the Jewish National Fund (JNF) - which collects donations in Britain, the United States and other countries as a registered "charity" - to plant trees in the area so that the Bedouin cannot come back to farm there.

In a joint press statement the al Arakib Popular Committee and the Negev Co-existence Forum for Civil Equality said:
"The destruction's declared aim is to facilitate plans by the Jewish National Fund to plant a wood on the site. We regard this demolition as a criminal act. Bedouin citizens of Israel are not enemies, and forestation of the Negev is not a reasonable pretext for destroying a community which is more than 60 years old, dispossessing its residents, and violating the basic rights of hundreds of Israeli civilians, men, women and children.

This act by the state authorities is no ‘law enforcement’ – it is an act of war, such as is undertaken against an enemy."

They added that it could not be separated from what Netanyahu had said about Bedouin as a "threat".


For Juma al-Turi, who saw his village destroyed, the sense of war, and feeling of degradation, was deeply etched, as is described in Ha'aretz.

'"I saw the smiles of the policemen and the inspectors who did it, they simply enjoyed it while the children were left without a home. They made victory signs with their hands after the destruction. It seems they were confused and were certain they were in Lebanon in the war against Hezbollah," he said.

'Al-Turi, who made his living importing food for sale in the south, Egypt and Jordan, is among the village's more well-off denizens. To village residents he is a man of the world and a symbol of success. A large number of his friends are Jews who come every once in a while to his house in the village to eat and close deals.

'Shai Shalom, a friend of al-Turi's, came yesterday to console him.

"I simply can not believe my eyes, they destroyed all his houses. It is sad, I don't know why they did it," he said.

'In the wake of the destruction al-Turi lauded the quick help by the Islamic Movement to donate new tents.

"The Jews destroyed, the Muslims help. See what you've done. You are pushing us directly into the welcoming arms of the Islamic Movement," he said. "These were my grandfather's lands, why does someone want to take them from me? I live here peacefully and quietly and don't bother anyone. It is simply embarrassing. I am a man of peace, I always got along with everyone, but you are pushing us to dangerous directions."'

Yesterday, while his police were destroying an Arab village, Binyamin Netanyahu was visiting Jordanian leaders in Amman.

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