BEER SHEVA, January 26 (JMCC) - Over 400 people gathered in front of the Beer Sheva
courthouse Sunday afternoon, denouncing the ongoing police violence, land theft and dispossession of the residents of al-Araqib, a Palestinian Bedouin
village in the Israeli Negev desert.
Holding signs that read “Arab-Jewish Partnership,” and “No to home demolitions,” al-Araqib residents and their supporters demonstrated outside the courthouse as the first hearing related to the village’s destruction at the hands of the Israeli Land Administration (ILA) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) went on inside.
“We lost trust in these courts and this is why many of us are here today. We want to tell the Israeli state that we want all our rights in these courts,” said Samieh Altory, an al-Araqib resident and the father of 11 children, outside the courthouse.
“We have all the necessary documents that prove that this land is ours and that we inherited it from our ancestors. For this we came to tell this state to stop demolitions, stop destroying, stop damaging our land in al-Araqib,” Altory said.
Al-Araqib, a Bedouin village of 300 residents including 200 children, has been demolished ten times since last July. The Jewish National Fund or JNF has targeted the community in an effort to build a forest over the villagers’ lands.
The ninth and tenth demolitions took place less than 24 hours apart, on January 16 and 17, respectively. During this latest round of destruction, Israeli police shot rubber bullets and tear gas at residents, carted away all the residents’ belongings and reconstruction materials, set up roadblocks to keep people away from the area, and arrested 11 residents and activists.
“Last week when [the police] came twice, on Sunday and Monday, they didn’t leave anything for us. They destroyed the houses, took away our clothes, the books of our children, the schoolbags, anything that belongs to the kids,” explained Sabah al-Araqib, a village resident and the mother of five children under the age of 13.
“Also the water, they threw it away. The milk, they took it. They didn’t leave anything for the kids,” she added.
Shortly after the demolitions, al-Araqib residents and local activists served the JNF with a stop-work order, barring the organization from conducting any more destruction until the property issue is addressed.
“It’s about the legality of working on land without having clarified the property issue. We want to stop the JNF from creating irreversible facts on the ground,” said Gadi Algazi, an Israeli activist with Tarabut, the Arab-Jewish movement for social and political change, on Sunday in front of the Beer Sheva courthouse.
He explained that a ruling in the case would likely only come after a few hearings, but that residents and activists were hopeful that the court would rule on the side of justice.
“Laws of dispossession have been in place since the early 1950s. We hope that the judge will break with 50 years of ignoring the rights of the Bedouin. It would be exceptional,” Algazi said.
VILLAGE NOT RECOGNIZED BY ISRAEL
In the late 1960s, the Israeli state implemented a plan to move Palestinian Bedouin populations from their homes in the Negev desert into seven government-planned townships. While some Bedouin moved into these urban centers – which are plagued by poverty, crime and a lack of jobs and services – many others resisted, arguing that they would be stripped of their traditional way of life.
Today, approximately 84,000 Bedouin citizens live in 45 so-called “unrecognized” villages throughout the Negev. As one of these communities, al-Araqib suffers from a systematic lack of basic services, as the state refuses to provide its residents with water, sewage, electricity, healthcare and roads, among other things.
“[The Israeli government] tried with the seven planned towns. Those towns are dormitory towns. People only sleep there. There’s nothing there,” explained Ismael Abu Saad, an Associate Professor in the Education Department Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and the Founder of the university's Center for Bedouin Studies and Development.
“If they improved the quality of life in the towns, it may motivate someone to leave [al-Araqib]. The problem is that the alternative is even worse than being in an unrecognized village. Today, people will resist. They have nothing to lose,” Abu Saad said.
Indeed, according to Sabah al-Araqib, the village residents will remain steadfast in their struggle against the take-over of their lands, no matter what the cost.
“We exist on this Arab land, we won’t be evicted from it and won’t leave it despite all difficulties and conditions and plowing and Israeli oppressive policies. We are here regardless of what Israel does,” she said.
Sabah added that the impact the demolitions have had on her children and the other children in the village has been extremely difficult.
“We tell the Israeli state, until when [will this continue]? What do you want? We know what you want. You want land. But this is something we can’t give you. It is our land, from our ancestors. God willing it will also be for our children,” she said.
“We keep telling [the children] that this land is yours, and it will be yours in the future. You will build schools, hospitals, and you will become doctors and treat or be patients in these hospitals. Each one of you will live with stability and prosper.”