In a tweet that was later deleted, the Jewish National Fund says Bedouins in unrecognized villages are “living on someone’s land illegally.” The JNF has been taking part in evacuations of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and in foresting actions aimed at preventing the Bedouin from accessing their lands; last month, a JNF board member resigned, citing “violation of human rights” by the organization
The Fund – originally established to buy lands in the early days of Zionism – is today a quasi-government agency that controls 13 percent of the land in Israel. Since the fund only sells lands to Jews, the government occasionally transfers real estate in disputed areas to the fund, so it can carry out discriminatory policies that the government is forbidden from exercising directly. Such are the cases in East Jerusalem.
In the south, the fund does foresting work on the lands of unrecognized Palestinian villages, aimed at preventing Bedouins from rebuilding their homes. Last week, the Abu al-Qian Bedouin clan protested plans to evacute them from their homes in the Yatir area in order to make room for another JNF forest.
Last Thursday, there was an interesting tweet from the JNF USA office, essentially admitting that the Fund sees the Bedouin citizens of Israel as illegal invaders in their own land:
After several followers re-tweeted this message, the tweet was deleted. A new tweet directed readers to a public statement by the fund, claiming that the Bedouin issue “is too complicated to debate in 140 [characters].”
“The issue” is in fact not that complicated. When Israel was established, it chose not to recognize Bedouin ownership of lands that they cultivated or lived on, making them illegal residents in their own home – even in cases where those settlements predated the state itself. More than 60 years after, the state still tries to evacuate the Bedouin, while refusing to connect them to infrastructure such as electricity and water. Yet in the world of the Jewish National Fund, its not even a disputed territory: All lands belongs to Jews by default, and people – Israeli citizens! – living there are doing so “illegally.”
The Jewish National Fund is knowingly and willingly taking an active role in taking over the lands of indigenous population in different parts of Israel and the occupied territories. Lately, JNF board member Seth Morrison resigned from the organization, calling its evacuations of Palestinians in East Jerusalem a “violation of human rights.”
Rabbis for Human Rights have launched a campaign against the Jewish National Fund’s attempts to take over Palestinian homes and evacuate Bedouins from their lands. You can read more about it here.
A state committee was about to include two Palestinian-Bedouin villages in a new municipal plan, thus giving their residents official rights over their lands and homes after decades of dispute. A letter from an adviser to Netanyahu changed this decision
The problem of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Israeli south received some media attention recently following the repeated destruction by the state of a village named Al-Arakiv.
There are more than 40 unrecognized Palestinian-Bedouin villages in Israel, many of them predating the state itself. Their residents are Israeli citizens, but they don’t receive basic services such as water and electricity, and occasionally, they are evicted from their homes and lands.
A government inquiry committee headed by Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg concluded a few years ago that the state should grant most of the villages official status, but its report, though officially adopted by the government, was never implemented.
Today, Haaretz is reporting (Hebrew) that the Prime Minister’s office took side in the procedures of a national planning committee, demanding that it wouldn’t recognize two such villages as part of a new municipal plan for the city of Beer-Sheva.
The sub-committee for principal planning issues in the National Council for Planning and Construction was about to include two villages – Tel Arad and Um Elhiran – in its new plan for the Beer-Sheva greater area. The new plan would have finally given the residents of the villages the opportunity to have an official claim for their lands, to receive basic services and most importantly, not to live under a constant threat of evacuation, as many Bedouin do.
However, two days ago the committee received a letter from the PM advisor for planning, Gabi Golan, demanding not to include the two Bedouin villages in the new plan. The letter repeated the old Israeli demand that the Bedouin leave their lands and their old way of life and move to the small towns Israel has constructed for them.
According to sources in the committee, cited by Haaretz, the Prime Minister’s demand was met, and the new plan, which was submitted yesterday, does not include the two villages.
More background on the problem of the unrecognized Bedouin villages can be found here.
The Bedouin village al-Arakib, in the northern Negev, was destroyed again today. Hundreds of policemen blocked the access to the village, removed the residents from the temporary homes they constructed, and razed the place with bulldozers.
Al-Arakib was destroyed for the first time last week, only to be rebuilt later by residents and volunteers in the following days. According to news site Ynet, 10 temporary structures were constructed in al-Arakib in the past week. They were all destroyed today.
Arab Knesset member Taleb El-Sana (Raam-Taal) fainted after being removed by force from one of the homes. He was evacuated to a hospital in nearby Beersheba.
Al-Arakib spokesman and local resident Dr. Awad Abu-Farikh told Ynet that
“The black-clad special unit forces are the true face of (Foreign Minister Avigdor) Lieberman’s democracy. This operation is the first step in the uprooting of many villages. We shall return to our villages, build our homes and not leave this place”.
Israeli police announced that it will sue the village for the cost of its evacuation. the cost of last week’s operation alone was estimated at 2 million Shekels (500,000 USD).
The village of al-Arakib stands near the place of the historical al-Arakiv, which was built around the turn of the 19th century, when most of the Bedouin population of the Negev (Israel’s southern desert) abandoned nomadic life and settled in small villages. In this post [Hebrew] you can see the ruins of the old al-Arakib, which like many other Arab settlements, was destroyed between 1948 and 1951. Since then, the people of al-Arakib have been trying to regain access to their lands.
One of the comments to my previous post on al-Arakib referred to the fact that the Bedouin settlement was declared illegal in Israeli court, and this is the reason for its evacuation. I have a couple of points concerning this matter:
(a) The Israeli government is applying its laws in a very selective way. Just a few weeks ago, the government decided to back a law that would recognize the Jewish farms that were built illegally in the Negev during the last decade. At the same time, the state would not recognize more then 40 Bedouin villages, who are sitting on the same land for decades – many of them before the state was born. The state also refuses to evacuate the West Bank’s Jewish outposts that Israel itself views as illegal (not to be confused with the vast majority of so-called “legal” settlements). So the logic here is very simple: in all regions of “disputed” land, Jews are encouraged to settle and grab as much land as they can, while Arabs are being pushed away.
(b) Regarding the rule of law itself: Israel has introduced in the 50′s a whole set of laws that would make it impossible for many none Jews to have legal claim for lands, even if it was recognized as their own before the state of Israel was born. Any person who didn’t have legal documentation of his land and/or was temporarily displaced in the war of 1948 and the years to follow lost his rights to the land. This is part of what made the people of al-Arakib “invaders” to their own home. So it’s not only a question of government policy: the entire legal system on the issue of land ownership distorted and discriminating.
For further reading, I recommend this excellent post by Eyal Niv, explaining how Israel is pushing the Bedouin population from their lands.
A couple of days ago, when the news cycle was dominated by the story of the IDF helicopter crash in Romania, an entire village was destroyed in the Israeli southern desert.
El-Arakib, in the northern Negev, is one of more then 40 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the south of Israel. At down, hundreds of Israeli policemen and soldiers took the entire village – men, women and children – out of their houses, and let them watch in horror as the Bulldozers crashed their homes. the whole thing took just a few hours.
“The forces met only minor protest,” the Israeli media reported in the morning.
The unrecognized villages, many of them predate the establishing of Israel, are not receiving any services from the state: no water, no electricity, no transportation and no paved roads. Their children walk miles in the heat of the desert summer or in the freezing cold of the winter to get to school.
The Bedouins, once the proud natives of the south, are now the poorest population in Israel. Most of them used to serve in the IDF, but after the treatment they got from the state, many refuse army service these days. Crime rate in the Bedouin towns is on the rise, illiteracy and unemployment are the highest in Israel. Under such conditions, it is no surprise that the Islamic movement is getting stronger in the south. Nobody else would provide support, comfort and political empowerment for the local population. The Israeli response is to push the Bedouins harder.
A few years ago, the Israeli minister of infrastructure ordered the tiny fields of El-Arakib – out of which the locals barely make a living – be sprayed with poisonous chemicals from the air. This was the Israeli version of Agent Orange, used against our own citizens. The minister who sent the planes was Avigdor Lieberman. Today, he is the face Israel is showing the world.
On Monday night, when word of the evacuation came, some thirty Israeli activist rushed to the Negev, trying to stand by the village’s people. But there was nothing they could do against hundreds of soldiers and policemen.
Soldiers – facers covered – run into the village. Several residents and activists who were standing in their way are beaten, pushed back, thrown to the ground. A young woman pushes her way in, trips, falls onto the rocks, and cries out in pain. A soldiers stands over her, covered in black, face veiled, and laughs a laugh that I will never forget.
Bulldozers are razing the village now. They crush the tin shanties, uproot everything that stands in their path. The villagers watch, too tired even to shout. One of them cries out in pain when the bulldozer pulls the olive trees out of the ground. “Leave the trees, at least, what have they done wrong? We’ve been growing them for ten years now.” “You shouldn’t even have shade,” murmurs one of the policemen.
Here is a sad video of the events:
How is it that a government which claims to be unable to evacuate a single “illegal” outpost in the West Bank can bulldozer an entire village overnight? Social activist Gadi Elgazi has the answer: right now, anything not Jewish in Israel is under attack.
Why bring upon the people of el-Arakib this destruction? Just the day before the demolitions, the recent remarks of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the proposed Loyalty Law were published. Netanyahu stated his position clearly:
“We are a nation state, which means that the overall sovereignty of the country is reserved for the Jewish people. [...] Today, an international campaign is being waged against the definition of Israel as a Jewish state. I do not want to leave things as is [without a revised loyalty oath, GA], because we are under attack on this matter. The significance of these attacks is that various elements are liable to demand their own national rights and the rights of a state within the state of Israel – in the Negev, for example, if it becomes a region without a Jewish majority. This happened in the Balkans and constitutes a real threat.” (My emphases; Netanyahu’s declaration was included in Haaretz Hebrew edition (26.7.2010), but not in the English one)
The words are clear: the state belongs to the Jews, not to all its citizens. Full civil equality of its citizens – individual and collective – constitutes a threat. Then the mirror effect: imagined aggression (“under attack”, “real threat”) justifies actual aggression. The Bedouin in the Negev are transformed into a “real threat,” because something might happen there; Netanyahu doesn’t say what but refers to the Balkans. There were several cases of ethnic cleansings in the Balkans. Proponents of ethnic cleansing often explain that they are merely defending themselves from a minority group, whose very existence is for them a threat.
What are the Bedouin accused of? How did their very existence become a “real threat”? The Negev, says Netanyahu, might become a “region without a Jewish majority.” This is truly a good one: you can move from region to the next throughout the country and discover that in a particular area within Israel, there isn’t a Jewish majority, for example between Kafr Qara’ and Umm el-Fahem, or between Sakhnin and ‘Arabe. Well, then don’t we have to do something against this threat? Yes, of course, and so we do! Think about the project of establishing the city of Harish in Wadi ‘Ara, not as a solution to the housing shortage with which the current residents of the area must contend, and not as part of development plans that will benefit all residents of the region, but rather as an attempt to use the housing shortage of the ultra-Orthodox as a tool against the Arab resident of the area – while at the same time preventing Arab citizens from developing and expanding their own communities. Just like the lookouts that were established in the North to surround and divide, to combat the “threat” of Arab communities in the Galilee.
This is an ongoing war, a war of attrition against part of citizenry of the country, a war whose arsenal includes prohibitions of construction and orders of demolition, and whose soldiers are building inspectors and the Green Patrol.
And while all of this is going on, demands are made upon Arab citizens to perform national service and to prove their loyalty to a state that is not loyal to them. Just a few weeks ago, near Shoket Junction in the Negev, in the context of everyday home demolitions, a Bedouin Soldiers Club was demolished. So what’s the message? Clearly: No service, whether military or civilian, will guarantee equal rights. The Druze of the Galilee [who perform military service] don’t exactly enjoy equality, do they?
More photos from the evacuation here. Information on the Bedouins and the problem of the unrecognized villages can be found here.