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Villagers Rebuild Razed Bedouin Village

AlternativeNews, 28 July 2010

"We successfully rebuilt all the structures and tents destroyed, noted Dr. Awad Abu Freih, spokesperson of the el Araqib village and member of the el Araqib Popular Committee and the Arab Education Forum in the Negev. In a conversation with the AIC, Dr. Abu Freih stated that the residents of el Araqib "plan on building more than what was destroyed, in an attempt to prevent future demolitions."

Over 300 Bedouins, mainly children, were forcefully removed from their village Tuesday morning (27 July) as they watched the Israeli police destroy their homes and property. The raid began at about 4:30 in the morning and residents woke up surrounded by a huge force of 1,500 police with guns, stun grenades, helmets and shields, including hundreds of Special Riot Police as well as mounted police, helicopters and bulldozers.

Despite being unrecognized by Israel, the village of el Araqib has existed since before the creation of Israel in 1948. Bedouin residents were evicted by the newly declared Israeli state in 1951, but returned to the land on which they live and where they cultivate. Ownership of the land is now the subject of proceedings in the Be'er Sheva District Court.

Dr. Abu Freih calls on internationals to help the Bedouins of El-Araqib in their struggle for survival to remain in their village. He states that they are currently in need of “everything,” from money to visits to media attention. He encourages anyone interested to speak to the villagers and spend the day or night with them.

Dr. Yeela Raanan of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages urges fundraising efforts to raise much-needed money to rebuild the destroyed homes and recultivate the devastated land. Dr. Raanan emphasizes that the residents also need to know that they are not alone in this battle, explaining that the more support people will show them, the more strength they will have to remain firm in their resistance.

Dr. Raanan notes that the sole just solution to this issue is to simply allow the residents to remain on their property, grant them their land rights, and allow them access to their land resources. She urges Europeans and Americans in particular to demand that their governments recognize this issue of demolishing unrecognized villages and to pressure Israel into allowing the indigenous people access to their land.

A prayer ceremony open to the public will be taking place this Friday, July 30, at 11 AM in the village of El-Araqib.

West Bank Bedouins worse off than Gazans

AL HADIDIYA, WEST BANK, 28 July 2010 (IRIN) - The road to al-Hadidiya village in the northeastern West Bank district of Tubas is dotted with boulders etched with a warning in Hebrew, Arabic and English: “Danger - Open Fire Area”.

The boulders arrived about six months ago, and are positioned at the entrance to Palestinian villages, indicating that chunks of the Jordan Valley have become a closed military zone claimed by the Israeli army. They signal a further squeeze on the Bedouin communities here.

Shepherd Abdul Rahim Bsharat, 59, and his family have lived and farmed in al-Hadidiya since the 1960s. At that time, he said, there were 400-500 families there. Now, there are 17, who stay on despite having no access to water or electricity. Every building in the village has an Israeli demolition order on it.

On 21 June, the Israeli military gave Bsharat notice that his house and animal shelters could be destroyed at any time. When Bsharat’s house was previously demolished in 2002, his water tank was confiscated too. “If they destroy my property again, I’ll come back and rebuild it again. This is my land,” he told IRIN.

Bsharat’s home is a canopy of sewn-together sacks propped up over bare ground. It can easily be rebuilt. His other problems are more difficult to solve.

Photo: Phoebe Greenwood/IRIN
Bsharat in front of his home, which has an Israeli demolition order against it
Al-Hadidiya is in a part of the West Bank under complete Israeli control, known as Area C. The estimated 40,000 Palestinians living there are unable to build or repair their homes, schools, hospitals or sewage systems under Israel’s strict permit system, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In a region where almost all families are herders, Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian access to and development of agricultural land mean thousands are going hungry, aid agencies say.

A report published recently by Save the Children UK entitled Life on the Edge, warns that many parts of Area C have plummeted into a humanitarian crisis more acute than in Gaza.

Israeli townships

Al-Hadidiya is surrounded by three expanding Israeli townships, Ro’i, Beka’ot and Hemdat. Its land is directly adjacent to Ro’i and the community collects any over-flow from the water pumps irrigating the settlers’ crops in rusting tins.

Despite a lengthy petition from Bsharat, Israeli authorities have not permitted al-Hadidiya to be connected to the main water network. There is no health centre and no permit to build one. The nearest hospital is several hours away in Jericho.

Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints mean that reaching a doctor can take hours. In 2002, Bsharat’s then two-and-a-half-year-old son was hospitalized for 16 days when a common cold turned into pneumonia. In the same year, his eight-year-old son was badly injured falling off a tractor. It was six hours before a car could get through to al-Hadidiya to get him to hospital. He died from blood loss.

Israel has suffered deadly suicide bombings launched from the West Bank in the past and says strict rules on Palestinian movement enforced through checkpoints and roadblocks are necessary for its security.

According to the Israeli military, homes in al-Hadidiya and much of the Jordan Valley are being demolished because they have either been built illegally, without an Israeli building permit, or are located in “closed military areas”. Around 18 percent of the West Bank is now a closed military zone.


Photo: Phoebe Greenwood/IRIN
Bedouin children wander away from their home in al-Hadidiya village, which is now within a closed military zone claimed by the Israeli army
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) found that in Bedouin communities like al-Hadidiya, rates of stunting are more than double those in Gaza. Almost half the children have diarrhoea, one of the biggest killers of children under five in the world, and three quarters of families do not have enough nutritious food.

Save the Children works with local NGO Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) to help families in al-Hadidiya repair damaged buildings and farmland, when possible. But the strict restrictions on building and access mean that the Palestinian Authority and aid agencies are limited in the help they can offer families anywhere in Area C.

“In recent weeks the international community has rightly focused on the suffering of families in Gaza but the plight of children in Area C must not be overlooked. Many families, particularly in Bedouin and herder communities, suffer significantly higher levels of malnutrition and poverty,” Salam Kanaan, Save the Children UK’s country director, said.

“It’s now urgent that steps are taken to ensure children here have safe homes and proper classrooms, enough food to eat and clean water to drink.”


The “Summer Camp Of Destruction:” israeli High Schoolers Assist The Razing Of A Bedouin Town

by Max Blumenthal

AL-ARAKIB, ISRAEL — On July 26, Israeli police demolished 45 buildings in the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Arakib, razing the entire village to the ground to make way for a Jewish National Fund forest. The destruction was part of a larger project to force the Bedouin community of the Negev away from their ancestral lands and into seven Indian reservation-style communities the Israeli government has constructed for them. The land will then be open for Jewish settlers, including young couples in the army and those who may someday be evacuated from the West Bank after a peace treaty is signed. For now, the Israeli government intends to uproot as many villages as possible and erase them from the map by establishing “facts on the ground” in the form of JNF forests. (See video of of al-Arakib’s demolition here).

“]Israeli high school age police volunteers lounge on furniture  taken from an al-Arakib family's home. All photos by Ata Abu Madyam of  Arab Negev News.

Moments before the destruction of the Bedouin village of al-Arakib, Israeli high school age police volunteers lounge on furniture taken from a family's home. [The following four photos are by Ata Abu Madyam of Arab Negev News.

One of the most troubling aspects of the destruction of al-Arakib was a report by CNN that the hundreds of Israeli riot police who stormed the village were accompanied by “busloads of cheering civilians.” Who were these civilians and why didn’t CNN or any outlet investigate further?

I traveled to al-Arakib yesterday with a delegation from Ta’ayush, an Israeli group that promotes a joint Arab-Jewish struggle against the occupation. The activists spent the day preparing games and activities for the village’s traumatized children, helping the villagers replace their uprooted olive groves, and assisting in the reconstruction of their demolished homes. In a massive makeshift tent where many of al-Arakib’s residents now sleep, I interviewed village leaders about the identity of the cheering civilians. Each one confirmed the presence of the civilians, describing how they celebrated the demolitions. As I compiled details, the story grew increasingly horrific. After interviewing more than a half dozen elders of the village, I was able to finally identify the civilians in question. What I discovered was more disturbing than I had imagined.

Israeli police volunteers go through the belongings an al-Arakib  family

Israeli police youth volunteers pick through the belongings an al-Arakib family

Arab Negev News publisher Ata Abu Madyam supplied me with a series of photos he took of the civilians in action. They depicted Israeli high school students who appeared to have volunteered as members of the Israeli police civilian guard (I am working on identifying some participants by name). Prior to the demolitions, the student volunteers were sent into the villagers’ homes to extract their furniture and belongings. A number of villagers including Abu Madyam told me the volunteers smashed windows and mirrors in their homes and defaced family photographs with crude drawings. Then they lounged around on the furniture of al-Arakib residents in plain site of the owners. Finally, according to Abu Matyam, the volunteers celebrated while bulldozers destroyed the homes.

“What we learned from the summer camp of destruction,” Abu Madyam remarked, “is that Israeli youth are not being educated on democracy, they are being raised on racism.” (The cover of the latest issue of Madyam’s Arab Negev News features a photo of Palestinians being expelled to Jordan in 1948 juxtaposed with a photo of a family fleeing al-Arakib last week. The headline reads, “Nakba 2010.”)

According to residents of al-Arakib, the youth volunteers  vandalized village homes

According to residents of al-Arakib, the youth volunteers vandalized homes throughout the village

The Israeli civilian guard, which incorporates 70,000 citizens including youth as young as 15 (about 15% of Israeli police volunteers are teenagers), is one of many programs designed to incorporate Israeli children into the state’s military apparatus. It is not hard to imagine what lessons the high school students who participated in the leveling of al-Arakib took from their experience, nor is it especially difficult to predict what sort of citizens they will become once they reach adulthood. Not only are they being indoctrinated to swear blind allegiance to the military, they are learning to treat the Arab outclass as less than human. The volunteers’ behavior toward Bedouins, who are citizens of Israel and serve loyally in Israeli army combat units despite widespread racism, was strikingly reminiscent of the behavior of settler youth in Hebron who pelt Palestinian shopkeepers in the old city with eggs, rocks and human waste. If there is a distinction between the two cases, it is that the Hebron settlers act as vigilantes while the teenagers of Israeli civilian guard vandalize Arab property as agents of the state.

The spectacle of Israeli youth helping destroy al-Arakib helps explain why 56% of Jewish Israeli high school students do not believe Arabs should be allowed to serve in the Knesset – why the next generation wants apartheid. Indeed, the widespread indoctrination of Israeli youth by the military apparatus is a central factor in Israel’s authoritarian trend. It would be difficult for any adolescent boy to escape from an experience like al-Arakib, where adults in heroic warrior garb encourage him to participate in and gloat over acts of massive destruction, with even a trace of democratic values.

Youth volunteers extract belongings from village homes as  bulldozers move in

Youth volunteers extract belongings from village homes as bulldozers move in

As for the present condition of Israeli democracy, it is essential to consider the way in which the state pits its own citizens against one another, enlisting the Jewish majority as conquerers while targeting the Arab others as, in the words of Zionist founding father Chaim Weizmann, “obstacles that had to be cleared on a difficult path.” Historically, only failing states have encouraged such corrosive dynamics to take hold. That is why the scenes from al-Arakib, from the demolished homes to the uprooted gardens to the grinning teens who joined the mayhem, can be viewed as much more than the destruction of a village. They are snapshots of the phenomenon that is laying Israeli society as a whole to waste.


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