In the postings below Amit Ramon tells the story of the demolition of Al Arakib, for the 9th time now, while Yehudit Keshet reponds to the smooth-talking propaganda of the Friends of the Arava Institute for the Environment which, in partnership with the JNF/KKL is “developing” the Negev, “preparing future Arab and Jewish leaders to cooperatively solve the region’s environmental challenges”, while totally ignoring the fate of Al Arakib.
See also the Jewish Alliance for Change Petition against JNF expulsion of the Bedouin in the Negev, addressing senior JNF leaders, posted on our website last October.
22 Jan: since the original posting, Seth Morrison of the Friends of Arava Institute has written an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post the Beduin as “victims of discrimination, poverty, environmental degradation”. But he is unwilling to acknowledge how deeply racism and discrimination is built into the law from which the JNF benefits and the demolition of Al-Arakib goes unremarked…
Amit Ramon, 17 January 2011
On Sunday, January 16th, 2011, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) accompanied by a heavy police presence destroyed the Bedouin village of Al Arakib for the 9th time since its total destruction in July 2010. During the village’s destruction the police forces used large amounts of violent force, including sponge bullets (a police method of crowd dispersal) which injured eleven of the residents, one of them in his eye.
This time it seems that the ILA has decided to expel the residents once and for all. This is corroborated by statements made by Shlomo Zeiser, the ILA officer in charge of inspection, in an interview with the “Walla” news website: “In addition to the ongoing work, we cleared away the debris from the previous demolitions, which were an environmental and safety hazard. At the same time, we started to prepare the place for planting, in order to protect the land there.”
Throughout the demolitions the police forces arrested a number of residents who were protesting the destruction of their homes. Parallel to the demolition, ILA personnel began to clear away the remains of the eight previous demolitions, and started construction works to level the land in order to prepare it for planting trees. Activists who arrived at the village this morning (Monday, 17/1) in order to observe and document the events were stopped by police forces, and one of them, Tarabut’s member Gadi Algazi, a historian from Tel Aviv University, was arrested by the police.
The village of Al Arakib has existed for 80 years. In the early 1950’s the new Israeli state requested of the residents to leave their village temporarily, promising that they will be allowed to return to the village in six months. This promise was never fulfilled. In the beginning of the 1990’s the village residents and their descendants decided to return to their lands and to make good on the promise that was made to them. Since then the Israeli government has been using different means to try to expel them again. Among the more outrageous attempts included sending airplanes to blanket the residents’ wheat fields with toxic pesticides meant for weeds. After the High Court of Justice ruled that this method comprises a risk to health and human life, the government ceased using this method and began using tractors to uproot the young wheat sprouts. After the authorities realized that the Al Arakib residents were holding steadfast to their land and are not giving up, the government sent hundreds of heavily armed police and bulldozers to destroy the village and expel the residents by force. The first demolition was committed on the 27th of July, 2010, in which an entire fully populated village, including its houses, barns, orchards, and animal houses, was destroyed.
The residents returned and built dwellings for themselves, and the authorities returned and destroyed these eight times. After the second demolition Sheikh Sayah Al-Touri, the leader of the village, was exiled from the village and was forbidden from entering its lands. Al Turi was forced to dwell in the village’s cemetery. From this cemetery Sheikh Al-Touri sent a message of peace and reconciliation to the residents of Israel, where he explained why the Bedouins are not invaders, and called on the government to cease the demolitions.
The ongoing demolitions are not a coincidence. They are part of the 30 Day Plan, which is the plan to rid the Negev of its Bedouin residents. The last demolition is also a part of this plan. What is happening at this very moment in Al Arakib is nothing new in the history of the State of Israel. Cleansing the land, of its original residents as well as of any remnant of their existence—structures, agricultural lands, trees, and more—and then covering the land with trees. This is a practice that has been put into place in many other places in Israel. For instance, after the 1967 war, the Arab villages of Yalo and Imwaas in the Latrun area were completely destroyed and the trees of “Canada Park” planted on their ruins. And so on and so forth, in dozens of different cases. And now it seems that the state is trying to erase any trace of the existence of the residents of Al Arakib and deny any connection they have to this place.
At this very moment, the residents of the village have been assembled in their village’s cemetery overlooking the village, the same cemetery that they have used for 80 years. They are forbidden to approach what is left of their village. From the cemetery they can observe the bulldozers and other heavy machinery busy leveling their village, erasing any vestige of the human history of that place. Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le’Israel) employees are already preparing the ground for planting, and if we don’t stop them before it’s too late, the village’s land will be covered with green saplings starting this Thursday, in anticipation of Tu BiShvat, the Festival of the Trees.
We cannot allow that to happen. This is ethnic cleansing, plain and simple. They expel human beings, destroy their homes, and try to erase any trace of their existence. This is an attempt to rewrite the history of Zionism, to retroactively prove the known Zionist motto: “A land without a people, for a people without a land.” But this land was occupied. The residents of Al Arakib are living testimony of this, and for this reason, perhaps, the authorities are so determined and violent in their attempts to expel them from their lands.
Seth Morrison is chair of the Friends of the Arava Institute. He recently circulated a glowing report of the work of this Institute which you can find online here) the Institute’s website is here). In it he says: “I am pleased to report that both the Institute and our partners at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL), the international umbrella organization of the JNF, are actively addressing the complex challenges facing the Bedouins.”
In this Open Letter, Yehudit Keshet, Yehudit Keshet co-founder of MachsomWatch-CheckpointWatch and the author of CheckpointWatch: Testimonies from Occupied Palestine, (Zed Books, London), takes him to task:
Your enthusiastic report of your recent visit to Israel with your JNF/KKL partners was forwarded to me by a friend. Knowing intimately the places that you visited, and as one active on behalf of the Bedouin in the Negev, I was surprised that no mention was made of, for instance, the village of El Araqib just south of Rahat that was demolished 9 – yes nine – times since July 2010, including the destruction of olive trees and other cultivated crops. Yesterday and today, the 9th demolition the Israel police, together with representatives from JNF not only bulldozed the remaining shelter of the residents but wiped El Araqib off the map, besieged its residents in the cemetery and beat and shot any resident attempting to reach his lands. Activists trying to reach the site of the former village have been arrested together with leading Bedouin residents. The land is being levelled for JNF forestation, presumably to replace the destroyed crops and trees that their bulldozers tore down. This forestation project goes ahead i cooperation with a very dubious partner: God-TV. an Christian Evangelical media outlet with, presumably, an agenda of its own.
I don’t know whether the Arava Institute, its leaders, Friends and members are wilfully ignorant of the proposed Prawer/JNF plan for the Negev which is based on the removal of many unrecognized villages and the demolition of hundreds of structures, displacement of hundreds of families to enable the building of Jewish only villages, military bases, single owner (Jewish( farms and so on. Perhaps you are aware of it, since as partners JNF has shared this information with you? Either way, the Arava Institute should not masquerade as a liberal, enlightened institution bestowing bounty on the deprived (and they are deprived!) Arab=Bedouin residents of the Negev and their counterparts in Suissa and elsewhere. I would welcome a reasoned and honest response to this question, as a public institution information about your sources of funding, support and your agenda should be publicly available beyond the PR statements on your website and reports such as yours.
Meanwhile, the 300 residents of El Araqib, many of whom are left without shelter let alone compensation, are left without redress in despair and rage. All this while their land claims are actually still before the courts. Do you feel that this creates goodwill for the State of Israel among its Arab-Bedouin citizens? Do you feel that this is the beautiful face of Zionism that JNF – and ostensibly your organization – shows to the world? Personally, I doubt it. Attached is an album of photographs taken yesterday just after the demolition. Now even these ruins are no more.
This is a post script included after the letter was sent containing information not available at the time.
As a postscript: the day following the demolition of El Araqib, 17th January 2011, a further demolition took place with bulldozers flattening even the remains of the flimsy ruins. The villagers and activists who managed to circumvent the police cordon were besieged in the little cemetery. Attempts to prevent the bulldozers were met with tear gas, rubber and foam bullets, beatings and arrests of several activists including the redoubtable Haia Noach of The Negev Forum for Coexistence, and Ya’cov Manor a tireless campaigner for civil rights on behalf of Bedouin and Palestinians. Yaacov is over 70 and not in the best of health. Since no judge could be found to hear the case that night, the arrestees were held overnight at Beersheva prison and only released next day – without any charges being filed. This was clearly wrongful arrest and detention. Seven other people were treated at the local hospital for injuries resulting from the beatings, gas and shootings. The former site of the village is now being prepared for the reforestation programme of JNF – trees in the middle of nowhere requiring massive irrigation and all this, to create facts on the ground since the ownership question of El Araqib lands is still before the courts and has not been finally decided. A forestation project will be well-nigh irreversible.
To put this in context: there are plans for building military bases/training villages on a large scale in the Negev and keeping reserves of land in the (unlikely) need to settle people moving out of the West Bank. It is also part of the wider, tacit, scheme to encourage the Bedouin to move to the so-called authorised townships in order to better contain and control them, or, alternatively, to encourage them go — we know not where. El Araqib is but one tragic example.
I look forward to hearing from you.