The “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Al-Arakib (Al-Araqib) in the northern Negev, inhabited by Bedouin Arabic-speaking citizens of Israel, was bulldozed and destroyed again this morning. It is being reported as the 9th demolition since this summer.
The stated purpose of the demolition is to make way for the planting, by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), of a large forest in the Negev.
Each time so far, residents have “rebuilt”, making tents and flimsy shelters with what remained from each previous demolition, and have pursued their protests with the support of Israeli activists.
The Jerusalem-based Alternative Information Center (AIC) has reported this morning that “A large number of Israeli security and special forces arrived at El Arakib at approximately 9.00 this morning and completely demolished the village. And unlike in previous demolitions, the Israeli authorities are currently clearing away all the debris from this morning’s demolition, leaving the villagers with nothing … bulldozers from the Jewish National Fund remain on the villager’s land, even though the demolitions are completed”. This news is reported here.
The AIC also reported that “On 1 September 2010, the Bedouin residents of the ‘unrecognized’ villages in Israel wrote an unprecedented appeal to US President Barak Obama, requesting his assistance in calling on Israel to recognize the Bedouin traditional ownership of land and to stop demolishing their homes – fundamental rights of all human beings”.
The report adds that the villagers have already begun to rebuild, again.
UPDATE: The AIC has updated its report with this information; “When the families of El Araqib tried to resist, the Israeli authorities shot tear gas and rubber coated bullets. Five children between the ages of 16-17 were injured. The families of El Araqib claim that today’s demolition and plowing are in preparation for the Jewish Arbor Day holiday of Tu Bishvat this coming Thursday (20 January), on which hundreds of people are expected to come by invitation of the JNF to plant trees in the area”…
BACKGROUND: In late August, Haaretz published a lengthy article looking into the background of Al-Arakib, which is posted here, which we previously wrote about here.
The Haaretz story reports that “The driving force behind the suit to reclaim the Bedouin lands is Nuri el-Okbi. He is a 68-year-old garage mechanic who was educated in Kibbutz Evron, studied auto mechanics and worked in two kibbutzim in the Negev, Shoval and Lahav, before opening a garage of his own in Lod. At the end of the 1970s, when he, like many of his Bedouin friends, realized that submissive cooperation with the state would not be productive and that there was no chance his claims to land would be honored, he established the Association for the Support and Protection of Bedouin Rights. He has since worked by various means, some of them quite creative, to stir attention and compel the state to address the protracted dispute over Bedouin lands in the Negev … [el-Okbi said that] the state is creating a false impression and frightening the Israelis [i.e., Israeli Jews] into believing that the Bedouin are trying to seize control of the whole Negev. ‘If the state will one day have to expropriate land for true public purposes, it can always do so, and justifiably. For example, a section of my land was taken for a road that connects Lehavim to Eshel Hanasi, and I did not ask the state for anything and did not interfere with the building of the road. But I will not agree to dispossession for its own sake and for nationalist reasons’ … According to El-Okbi, a tribal court that was recognized by the state operated in his father’s house, a stone structure whose ruins still exist. But the state was unimpressed by El-Okbi’s documents, and in the fall of 1951 informed the tribe that its land was being requisitioned by the army for six months. They were evacuated eastward, to the Hora area, near Be’er Sheva. The same story is told by many Bedouin in the Negev. Since then, nothing has happened. Everyone who tried to return to his land was removed from it and accused of trespassing. In the 1970s, the state encouraged the Bedouin to submit claims for their lands to the land regulation unit in the Justice Ministry. Members of the Al-Okbi tribe, like others, submitted claims – which have since been gathering dust in interdepartmental filing cabinets. ‘We were expelled by deceit from our land, under the auspices of the military government’, El-Okbi says. ‘That is theft. We are citizens of the State of Israel, inhabitants of this country for generations’. Since then, the members of the Al-Okbi tribe and other Bedouin have been living in a state of suspended animation. The state has amended most of the Turkish and British laws and adapted them to its needs, but in the case of the Bedouin and their lands, one Israeli government after another has effectively decided to do nothing, or at most to set up a committee, which is the same as doing nothing, but looks better’. In 2005, Nuri el-Okbi asked the land regulator to register his land in his name. In response, the state sued him for invading mawat land [n.b. – uncultivated wasteland] and expropriated areas. The land regulator referred the resulting legal entanglement to the Be’er Sheva District Court … Four years ago, El-Okbi established a one-person settlement on his land. With the aid of human rights activists in the Negev he erected a tent, moved in and made it his headquarters for managing his affairs and the wider Bedouin issues. Every few weeks, a large number of police arrive at his hill with heavy machinery, destroy the tent, remove him from the site by force and take him into detention. When he is released, he returns to the hill and erects a new tent. In February of this year he was arrested for an entire week. ‘The incarceration was intolerable … People are treated like animals. I was brought to court, charged with 40 criminal counts of invasion, uprooting trees and violations of an order. I was released on bail, conditionally, and ordered to stay away from Arakib. I must now stay with my brothers, near Shoket Junction [north of Be’er Sheva], the place to which we were taken in 1951’ …
The claimants, headed by Nuri el-Okbi, are represented by attorney Michael Sfard. ‘I took this case’, Sfard explains, ‘because it is a classic case of the state using its overwhelming force, based on 150-year-old Ottoman laws which it interprets creatively, in order to justify dispossession and infringe the few rights of a weakened, trampled, discriminated community’.”