While the world focuses on the Occupied Territories, the plight of Israel’s Bedouin citizens has gone largely unnoticed. The Bedouin communities of the Negev (Naqab in Arabic) desert have been subject to Israeli policies of forced relocation and home demolitions, which has heightened in recent weeks. These moves have been pushed by the Israeli government to serve the interests of Jewish Israeli citizens, and have been undertaken with the support of the Jewish National Fund.
Before 1948 the Negev was home to some 65,000-100,000 Bedouins owning and cultivating 8-12 million acres of land. After the 1948 War only about 10% of the Bedouin population remained, with many Bedouins being expelled from the Western Negev, many being relocated to Gaza, and others herded into a triangle of land between Beersheva, Arad and Yeroham. In the 1960s-80s Israel created seven Bedouin townships. Today there are some 200,000 Bedouins in the Negev, with approximately 120,000 living in these townships and the rest divided among 11 recognised villages and 35 unrecognised villages. Most of these “unrecognised” villages existed prior to the formation of the State of Israel, and the rest were created by the State. For the most part they have no water, electricity or schools, and are subject to Israeli planning laws forbidding them from building structures. Over 1000 homes are demolished every year and crops destroyed . In 2011 the government released the Prawer Report, proposing the transfer of 40,000 Bedouins from unrecognised villages into the seven recognised ones, without consultation of the Bedouin communities involved. Whilst mass protests prevented the plans from being executed, forced relocation of Bedouins has remained a fact on the ground and a government policy, continuing the historical legacy of dispossession and dislocation.
Umm Al Hiran
Umm Al Hiran is one of the so-called “unrecognized villages,” home to approximately 1000 Bedouin citizens of Israel. Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, members of the Abu Qi’an family lived in an area called Khirbet Zubaleh. In 1956, the Israeli military government forcibly moved the Qi’an family to Umm Al Hiran.
A new Jewish settlement, known has Hiran, has established itself at Umm Al Hiran, while the Israeli government has advanced plans to evict the village of Umm Al Hiran, in order to expand the Jewish-only settlement of Hiran. According to Adalah, an organisation providing legal counsel for the town’s residents, no suitable offer of alternative housing has been made by the government, which rejected Umm Al Hiran’s resident’s offer to live in a shared village with future Jewish residents.
Recent deadly demolition
In the first week of this year, Israel demolished the homes of 151 Palestinians, almost four times last year’s average . In such a climate of increased demolitions, the village of Umm Al Hiran was next on the agenda. On Wednesday, the 18th January, a heavy police presence entered the village to begin demolitions, resulting in the tragic deaths of two people, as well as other injuries. Among the injured was MK Ayman Odeh of the Joint List, who was shot in the back with a sponge-tipped bullet, while attempting to retreat. Police fired tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets, and there were reports of live ammunition as well.
Villager Yaqub Musa Abu Qi’an was shot and died on the scene, whilst driving a vehicle. Footage, though contested, shows Yaqub driving his car at a group of police officers, resulting in the death of officer Erez Levi. According to official Israeli reports, police opened fire on Yaqub to prevent him from driving the vehicle into the group of officers. However, residents and activists maintain that the driver was shot first and subsequently lost control of the vehicle, which ran into the group of officers .
Fourteen structures were destroyed, and more homes and structures are slated for demolition, including the town mosque .
The JNF: A Key Player
While the JNF claims to work to “benefit all Israelis” , its execution of Blueprint Negev, a project aimed at revitalising, developing and preserving the Negev desert, clearly supports developments that benefit only Jewish citizens of Israel whilst dispossessing Bedouin Palestinians of their land. JNF forests have been planted on top of Palestinian villages and sites of significance, erasing their history from the land. JNF machinery has become increasingly used in home demolitions and construction work in Jewish settlements.
In 1963 the Israeli government reduced the amount of farmable land at Umm Al Hiran by transferring land to the JNF. Since August 2015, JNF bulldozers have been working to create the Jewish outpost of Hiran on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. JNF also supplied funding for mobile homes in Hiran.
The JNF, whilst presenting itself as a nonpartisan environmental organisation, whose main objective is the ecological improvement of the land of Israel, yields a lot of power in land usage and management. In 1960, most of the land held by the JNF (13% of Israeli land) was transferred to the newly formed government agency, the Israel Land Administration (ILA). The ILA became responsible for managing some 93% of the land of Israel. As part of this restructuring, JNF received the right to nominate 10 of the 22 directors of the ILA, allowing for increased powers of land management by the JNF.
The AJDS deplores the ongoing dispossession and dislocation of Bedouins from their lands and the demolitions of their homes and village structures. The fact that this group of Israeli citizens are being forcibly moved to make way for Jewish settlements is an appalling reflection of Israel’s undemocratic policies and evident racism, which goes against international standards of basic human rights.
We further petition JNF-KKL to divest the generous donations from Jewish communities and individuals around the world of Palestinians dispossession, and to cultivate environmental projects and social practices that benefit all of Israel’s citizens, as well as Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. We implore you to actively address the discrimination and marginalisation of Palestinian and Bedouin communities.
 http://www.globalresearch.ca/save-the-bedouins-of-the-negev-from-the-jewish-national-fund-jnf-and-the-israeli-government/5503793  http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.763331)  https://972mag.com/two-killed-in-bedouin-village-slated-to-be-demolished-replaced-with-jewish-town/124514/  http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.767165  http://www.jnf.org/work-we-do/blueprint-negev/?referrer=https://www.google.com.au/  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlgU6oLswv0
by George Stein
I visited a family friend while in Palestine on my current visit. She is part of a group called ‘ayalim,’ which aims to encourage students studying in Ben Gurion University in the Negev to consider permanent settlement in the area, to increase the population of Jews in the desert.
Ayalim considers itself ‘a new kind of pioneer. A new brand of activism. A new model for Israel.’ It believes that “bringing students to settle in the Negev and the Galilee is a national undertaking of supreme importance.” In order to provide incentives for this, the association grants “scholarships and subsidized housing to encourage students to settle in such areas.” However, this is not a new kind of pioneer, a new brand of activism or a new model for Israel. It claims that ‘today, we are closer than ever to Ben Gurion’s vision.” On the 5th of October 1937, in a letter to his son, Ben Gurion wrote that the “Negev land is reserved for Jewish citizens, whenever and wherever they want….We must expel Arabs and take their places…and if we have to use force, then we have force at our disposal”. Dr Awad Abu Freh, from the Bedouin village Al-Araqib told me that in 1948/1949 Jewish militia groups came into his village and killed twenty-one people, trying to scare them into leaving their land.
I stayed in one of the student villages in which Dani worked for two nights. I noticed that it is under rapid construction, with new buildings springing up everywhere, including a new Jewish National Fund (JNF) community centre. I also noticed a few nice parks, where sprinklers sprayed water onto green grass, pulsating to a silent beat. The next day, I visited Dr Awad Abu Freh, from the Bedouin village al-Araqib, where he told me about Israeli policies of discrimination towards his community, restrictions of water and a plan to displace these people from their homes. I wrote Dani a letter, not knowing how else to express my thoughts.
Letter to Dani:
Thanks again for having me in your home; it was so lovely to see you. I just wanted to email you about a few things we started to discuss. I would really love to get your feedback on some things. I came to Tel Aviv last year, wanting to travel in Israel without going on a program with a rigid structure and rules (like March of the Living and Academy), but also because I had started to learn about the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict and wanted to see what it was like for myself. My perspective was: the situation is really complicated and there is violence on both sides, but peace requires both sides to agree on coming together; for both Palestinians and Israelis to work together to stop the violence.
A friend of mine told me she had been to the Jordan Valley, which is in the West Bank and technically occupied territory, according to international law. But it is in Area C, which means that it is under full Israeli control. Going to the Jordan Valley changed everything for me. I stayed for about a month, visited many Palestinian villages and spoke to local families. The policies of the Israeli government in this area shocked me. These villages have been here for generations, well before the establishment of the state of Israel. Palestinians have farmed their land, picking dates and grapes and vegetables and would sell them at the market. There is plenty of water in this area and springs in many Palestinian villages, but this water is restricted to Palestinians. Wells are enclosed in barbed wire fences and are only available to Jewish settlements, like Tomer, Ro’I and Maskiyot. Israel has drilled deep wells which service Israeli settlements only. Because Israel forbids Palestinians to drill to a certain depth, they dry out the wells. Less than 10,000 settlers in the Jordan Valley use “one-quarter the total amount of water consumed by the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, some 2.5 million people.” Palestinian farmers have to travel huge distances to buy water from Jewish settlements or from the Israeli water company Mekorot. Settlers are given unlimited water and 75% discount on electricity, while many Palestinians have no electricity in these areas.
In addition to this, most Palestinian villages are under demolition order and are considered illegal by Israel, even though these communities have been here for generations. Most housing for these communities consists of metal poles with an aluminum or canvas sheet serving as the roof. In the harsh climate of the Jordan Valley, these structures offer no protection from the heat or cold (at night in winter). If these communities try to build more suitable homes (or schools or health centres), they will be demolished. Routinely, the army comes (usually in the morning) and demolishes homes and animal pens. Local Palestinians do not want to leave their land, and have nowhere to go, so sometimes these poor families will rebuild their homes over and over again, and live in constant fear of them being demolished (there is more information at jordanvalleysolidarity.org- this is the group I am with).
The reason I bring this up, is because similar things are happening in the Negev with the Bedouin communities. This is under the rationale of ‘making the dessert bloom.’ After I saw you, I went to visit the Bedouin village of Al Araqib. I thought I’d share with you some information that I learnt from speaking with villagers from there, as well as Israeli volunteers who have been working with this community for years. Al Araqib is located just off route 40 along the highway from Beersheva. According to Israel authorities, the village is unrecognized and illegal, as it was declared state property in 1954. Before the establishment of the state of Israel, there were about 65,000 to 90,000 Bedouin living in the Negev. Ninety percent of them were expelled from their homes. Ben Gurion claimed the Negev was empty, and suitable for immediate Jewish settlement. The next demolition was in 2010, by the Israel Land Authority to prepare the land for a JNF forest. Since 2010, the village has been demolished forty two times. In September 2011, the government released the Prawer report, which proposed the transfer of 70,000 Bedouin from unrecognised villages into seven recognised villages in the area, without any consultation with the communities involved.
I wrote something about my visit with a man I made contact with, Dr Awad Abu Freih and thought I’d send some to you:
I met with Dr Awad Abu Freih from Al-Araqib, a chemistry professor. He told me that there are big projects to develop the Negev. “For us,” he says “development of the Negev means destroying our homes. There’s the JNF and they fight us and are against us like we are enemies. They want to push us into cities, but we want to stay in our villages.” He tells me that life in the villages is very hard. Farmers must buy water from a nearby Jewish village and must pay two shekel for one cubic meter of water. Then, they must pay a lot of money to transport the water back to their villages. In the past, Bedouin people have been restricted to water access from some villages, but this was met with fierce resistance, with villagers threatening to break the water pipes if they were not given access to the water. So the only reason they have access to water is due to placing huge amounts of pressure on the government. “All the time they give water to the kibbutz and moshav but not the Bedouin who lives near them.”
Now, Dr Awad is in the process of bringing his claim of ownership over the land, to court. He has spent 100,000 dollars on legal fees alone. JNF is supposed to cease its activities until a decision by the court is made, but they have persisted in making the land into a forest. “The judge says if you win, we will give you the land like it was before. But How? They are liars. No one can make the land like before.”
Aziz is the leader of the committee of Al-Araqib. We sit and drink coffee in a tent-like structure in Al-Araqib and he tells me his story. He was born in 1974 in Al-Araqib and has continued his life here. He has six children. His story is briefly interrupted early on, by someone telling us that a nearby village is being demolished. I ask if they will come here. “We cannot know when they will destroy. All of our houses are unrecognised by the law. They can come anytime and destroy.”
Aziz tells me the first demolition was in 1948. His grandfather and father were amongst those who rebuilt the village, and now today he is doing the same. The villagers made everything green. They made oil from olive trees, produced wheat from the land and used sheep for cheese. “Before the second demolition [in 2010] we had 4,500 olive trees. We had 65 new houses, modern houses, fig trees, grape trees, orange trees in every garden. It was nice looking green and we eat this fruit. There were 573 people man woman children living here, but I am so sorry to say it our government decided to kill our life. They did not kill us but they kill our life.” From 2010 until now, Israeli Forces alongside the JNF have destroyed the village 42 times. This equates to 2 times a month. After demolishing the village, the government fines the people two million shekels to pay for the costs of demolition. So after forty-two demolitions, the people are expected to pay huge amounts of money. Paying for the bulldozers and soldiers who displace people of their homes.
At the same time as destroying these homes, the government is allowing new settlements to be built in the area. The JNF plants forests become state land and then these forests are cut down to make room for Jewish settlements.
Message from Al-Araqib to the world from the Sheihk of the village:
“I ask you and your groups to tell people what’s happening in the Negev.” People think that the JNF is making the Negev green, but they are destroying the Negev. Every Jewish person has the option of continuing life where they want. But Arabs are forced to live in villages. “We ask people to open their eyes.”
Before I go, Aziz tells me: Samud in Arabic means ‘stay on your land.’ We want everyone to know the word ‘samud,’ to stay on your land against the government, against the JNF.
Dani, this is relevant to you because the government is coordinating this displacement of Bedouins from the Negev at the same time as it is subsidizing and funding students to go to places like the one in which you work, in order to decrease the Bedouin presence while simultaneously increasing the Jewish presence in this area. If you get a chance, you should visit Al-Araqib. There are so many groups working there, like Negev Committee for Coexistence, Rabbis for Human Rights, etc. Even if you don’t believe what I am writing, I invite you: come to the Jordan Valley, come see this village. The world is becoming more aware of what is going on in Israel- government policies which use Judaism to enforce policies which cause all those who are not Jewish to suffer. For me, Judaism is too important to allow this to happen. The Palestinians do not see Jews as the enemy. They see those who deprive them of water, of work, of freedom of movement, of schools as the enemy. People are living under an unequal, military occupation which is causing them to suffer hugely. I only realised this when I saw it with my own eyes.
http://rhr.org.il/eng/index.php/tag/al-araqib/- Rabbis for Human Rights