The Bedouin village of al-Araqib located in the Naqab desert in southern Israel was destroyed again last Thursday, the 12th of June. It was 70th time the village had been demolished since 2010.
Around 350 policemen surrounded the village at 9:30am. The bulldozers destroyed makeshift houses and emptied water tanks around the village’s cemetery where some of the villagers were living . The village was completely destroyed by noon. The police remained until 6:00 pm, blocking all access to the village, and demolished the minaret of the village’s improvised mosque before leaving. By the end of the destruction tension had built between villagers and the police and nine people were arrested, including two minors under 15 years old who were later released.
Of the 300 inhabitants living in al-Araqib in 2010, around twenty remain today, including about four children under five years old and seven other minors. The other inhabitants now live in the neighboring city of Rahat.
Eight eviction orders for the village were delivered on the 21st of May and were to be enforced between the 12th of June and the 12th of July. According to the organization Dukium – Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, “some of the orders have been issued against persons who are no longer living and are buried in the cemetery, as well as against people no longer living in the village.”
Al-Araqib’s demolition and eviction “illegal”
According to al-Araqib families’ lawyer Kais Nasser, last Thursday’s demolition was carried out despite the fact that an appeal against the orders was being processed by the Lod District court.
Over the phone, Nasser explained that he had obtained a freeze on the eviction orders last Tuesday night at the Ramle district court. Then at 5:30 Thursday morning, the judge held a hearing with Israel’s Land Authority without notifying Nasser and cancelled the freeze. After being notified of this decision, Nasser appealed to the Lod district court at 9:30 am, just as police were arriving in al-Araqib. He notified the police and the Land Authority’s lawyer that a petition was being processed, and asked for the eviction to be put on hold until the court gave its decision on the appeal. The police rejected his request and proceeeded to demolish the village.
According to Nasser, at 12:00 pm the court decided to freeze the order. Meanwhile, the police had already completed the demolition. Two hours later the Land Authority submitted an appeal asking to be allowed to finish clearing rubble from the area. The judge stated there was no reason to go forward with Nasser’s appeal as the village had already been demolished. He dismissed the case, therefore allowing the police to proceed.
For Nasser, this is a illegal as he wasn’t notified of the hearing held early Thursday morning: “It was a flexible evacuation order, from the 12th of June to the 12th of July. There was no urgency to hold a session without the families, without me. It’s illegal!”
For him, it was also illegal to ignore the appeal he had presented and proceed with the eviction: “What do the families pay a lawyer for ? Why do we have a justice system and judges for? They don’t respect the court. The state of Israel would not have treated al-Araqib in such a way if it was a Jewish town. They acted in a hysterical way (…). It’s a human right to go to the court, to defend your home, your property, to submit a petition to the judge and ask him to decide on this dispute between the state and the families. [Last Thursday], the state denied this right.”
Displacing the Bedouins “justified” by humanitarian reasons and development
Thabet Abu Rass, Director of the Naqab project at Adalah, explained in a phone interview that the land of al-Araqib had been confiscated by the Israeli state in the 1950s and that a court case was currently open at the Israeli Supreme Court to rule on the land’s ownership: “The argument of the state is that [the inhabitants] should wait for the decision. Meanwhile, they can’t live there,” explained Abu Rass. “At the same time, [Israel] is trying to put facts on the ground by planting trees.”
The Supreme Court recently advised mediation between the government and the inhabitants of al-Araqib. As reported by Dukium on June 5:
The judges, led by Elyakim Rubinstein along with Esther Hayut and Salim Jubran, showed a clear tendency to bring about a mutually-agreed compromise – rather than either endorse or reject the ruling of Judge Sarah Dovrat of the Be’er Sheva District Court, who had ruled against the Ukbis [tribe people al-Araqib’s families are part of] and completely rejected their ownership claim.
The villagers accepted the mediation but the government decided to proceed with the eviction as quickly as possible.
For Thabet Abu Rass, this last demolition represents an escalation of the state’s violence against the Bedouins of the Naqab: “al-Araqib is becoming a symbol of the Bedouin’s resistance.”
Al-Araqib is one of the 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages located in the Naqab desert. In 2011, the Israeli government approved a plan to relocate the Bedouin in order to promote economic development around the city of Be’er Sheva. The Prawer plan was brought to the Knesset for adoption at the beginning of 2013.
According to a report published by Dukium, “it is part of the government’s broader policy designed to compel Bedouin citizens to abdicate ownership over their ancestral lands and move to recently recognized villages or townships. Though over 70,000 people reside in unrecognized villages in Israel, the state denies their existence.” As further explained in the report, the villages are not indicated on governmental maps or road signs, and are deprived of public services – electricity, water, health, education and transportation infrastructure and services.
In a translated version of the Process of Consultation with the Public published in 2013, the Prawer plan was justified by “humanitarian” concerns over the situation of the Bedouin:
The implementation of the principles of social justice to Bedouin children in the Negev and to their families is the obligation of the state which must, within a few years, advance a reasonable solution that will help them exploit their talents and realize their natural right to happiness just like any other child in Israel.
The report further adds that “by moving to a formalized settlement, even one that is located a few kilometers from their present place of residence, the families will make it possible for their children to leap in time in the midst of the 21st century.”
The Prawer plan was supposed to undergo four hearings at the Knesset but was shelved in December last year after massive opposition. Yet, according to Dukium’s report, the government had went forward with the Prawer plan before the Knesset even started to review it: “During 2012 and throughout the first half of 2013, a total of 1376 homes were demolished in Israel’s southern district (…).The vast majority of these houses – namely, 1261, which constitute 91% of the overall demolished properties – were inside Bedouin villages.”
What’s next for the Bedouins of al-Araqib?
On Friday, four of the villagers taken to detention Thursday were released. One remained in jail until Sunday. On Thursday night, the remaining villagers slept in al-Araqib, under the stars.
A demonstration was be organized for Sunday to protest the eviction and demolition. “We will hold a meeting with the families, activists and Knesset members to go on with the legal and public actions,” says Nasser.