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Is it a crime to own your own land?

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When you visit Sheik Sayah in the tiny Bedouin village of Al Araqib not far from Beersheva, he will show you documents signed by his great-great-grandfather who purchased and registered his land in 1905 during the Ottoman Empire. He will show you tax receipts from the British mandate. He will show you gravestones from 1914 in the village’s cemetery.
 You’ll see where village houses once stood and hear why residents are staying even though Israeli police have demolished their homes 83 times, put many in jail and is suing the villagers nearly 2 million NIS [about $500,000] for the cost of the demolitions.

Staying has never been easy. Since the 1948 war, the Israeli Government has concentrated Bedouin citizens into a specific area called the SAYAG zone in the Negev-Naqab desert. In the 1960’s, Israel declared SAYAG zone agricultural lands, making all shelters “illegal.” They refused to recognize Bedouin villages or supply infrastructure — instead, they forced the traditionally rural population into towns.

There are currently 250,000 Bedouin Israeli citizens in the Negev, residing in three areas: governmental planned towns, recognized villages and unrecognized villages. The Government of Israel continually demolishes homes in all three areas while insisting that urban resettlement is the only option for Bedouins. Why? Because towns provide the minimum area for people to live on and when the Bedouins move from their villages, the government takes their lands.

Bedouins graveyard, which ought to help preserve the community

Graveyard containing stones from 1914, in Al Araqib

How did this happen? Until 1966, all Palestinians who remained in Israel were granted citizenship and were subject to martial law. In places like Al Araqib, the military governor would visit the Sheikh of a tribe to say that the army was conducting maneuvers in their area. They were told that for their own safety the villagers would be removed for six months and afterwards, they would be allowed back.

When, after half a year Sheik Salman al Huzaiel, the leader of the tribes in this area, asked if his people could return, he was denied. When the village filed land claims with the State of Israel and asked for permission to grow barley and wheat, they were told they must pay rent. Their land now belonged to the State of Israel under a 1953 land acquisition law allowing the state to take over “abandoned” land. Native Americans could certainly relate to the unfair treatment.

Instead of allowing these people to return home in peace, the Government of Israel destroyed their wheat and barley, spraying Roundup weed-killer from airplanes and then just plowed it under when the court said no more. It allowed the Jewish National Fund to plan and plant the Ambassadors’ Forest on their land. Ambassadors from foreign countries, unaware of the whole issue, are invited by the JNF to help plant more trees.

On July 27, 2010, the state demolished the entire village. But the villagers did not leave – they rebuilt as best they could, again and again. On April 19, 2015, Israel’s police force demolished the village for the eighty-third time.

According to the Israeli Government, the leader of the village, Sheik Sayah, and his people invaded state land. But the State created this conflict between law and morality when they expelled Bedouin citizens from the land they own.

One of the most important lessons from World War II is that we should not tolerate racism anywhere. Especially in the Jewish State, we must affirm each person’s common humanity, whether Jewish or not, and uphold everyone’s basic human rights. If Israel does not stop its discriminatory policies, it will lose its moral standing and risk the good will and support of the entire world. If Israel does not stop this, it risks its very existence.

About Amos Gvirtz

Activist author Amos Gvirtz’ book, “Don’t Say We Did Not Know” examines the moral questions Israelis must face today and the reasons people don’t want to know about the crimes being committed by their police, army and government.

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11 Responses

  1. Landie_C
    May 3, 2015, 9:44 pm

    I would love to see Gvirtz try to get this published in The Forward as well. Also, I looked for his book “Don’t Say We Did Not Know” and couldn’t find it listed anywhere.

  2. Kris
    May 4, 2015, 12:03 am

    Is there no end to Israel’s lying, stealing, and cruelty in the name of all Jews?

    This is so very, very sad.

    Thank you for this article, which should be widely shared. The more that people know about the “Jewish” state, the more ashamed and embarrassed young Jews will be because of Israel, and the sooner justice will be achieved.

  3. Stogumber
    May 4, 2015, 1:03 am

    On the whole, I would prefer to look at this as a kind of legal abuse without stressing the “racism” angle.
    It’s questionable how far we need at all absentee property laws, but probably they exist elsewhere, too. But in any case absentee property must be protected against the state, if the state himself is responsable for the absence of the absentee. And this ought to be regulated by international law – in a way that disappropriation under such conditions is not legally accepted by foreign countries.

  4. just
    May 4, 2015, 7:33 am

    Thanks for this very good piece, Amos. It’s both infuriating and heartbreaking.

    “If Israel does not stop its discriminatory policies, it will lose its moral standing and risk the good will and support of the entire world.”

    I truly believe that it has already lost ‘its moral standing’. The rest is a work in progress that good people committed to justice and accountability are working hard to bring to their neighbors and their governments.

  5. pabelmont
    May 4, 2015, 8:30 am

    This tale of deception and theft by the government of Israel acting, it must be said, very much with the consent and admiration of at least its Jewish subjects — to say nothing of the consent and admiration (generally without informational foundation) of many Jews outside Israel — explains to those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and minds willing to understand the passionate anti-Zionism of so many others.

    People who know little of the largely settled bedu of the Naqab (whom Israel persists in describing as settled in unrecognized places, the word “unsettled” describing Israel’s wilful failure to recognize what all Palestinians and the British had recognized) might enjoy reading a charming little book, A Bedouin Boyhood by Isaak Diqs.

  6. eljay
    May 4, 2015, 8:57 am

    One of the most important lessons from World War II is that we should not tolerate racism anywhere.

    That’s an excellent lesson. Unfortunately, hateful and immoral Zio-supremacists have always preferred the lesson that underpins their ideology: Jews are entitled to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality they would not have others do unto them.

  7. Boomer
    May 4, 2015, 2:09 pm

    Disturbing news, but better to know than to be ignorant. Hardly surprising: it’s a continuation of the policy and practice since the founding of Israel. As an American, what disturbs me most is our complicity. We make it possible, we support it . . . always have. We do this, not only against our best moral principles, but against our own self-interest, since this policy creates animosity against the U.S. among countless people around the world. When this leads to attacks in response, we don’t address the root cause: we double down with more wars against Moslem nations. The long war, the global war, in one country after another. Killing Americans and more foreigners, creating more animosity. If innocents are killed, well that’s collateral damage, not worth counting (unless they are Americans), mere “bug splat” in the terminology of our drone warriors. We have demeaned ourselves, and in the end will undo ourselves.

    • catalan
      May 4, 2015, 2:34 pm

      Americans are not gentle innocents corrupted by Israel. We are greedy aggressors and we have always been so. Emerson, Melville, Thoreau, Lincoln, and John Quincy Adams all opposed the Mexican American War. It didn’t matter. I now live in the Southwest too, so of course I benefit from this aggression. Yet, I don’t try to create a fake world of a Golden Age before the founding of Israel. We are the descendants of the British Empire whose crimes and greed are legendary (although modern Britain is a descent country).

  8. serenity
    May 11, 2015, 5:28 pm

    “it will lose its moral standing and risk the good will and support of the entire world. If Israel does not stop this, it risks its very existence”
    I disagree: Israel HAS lost its moral standing–it has none. It HAS lost the good will and support of the entire world–outside of the governments, like the US and Canada which it controls. And finally the greatest risks to the existence of Israeli Zionists and Jews is not the anti-Semites (wherever they may be) but the revulsion that is building globally to the crimes (under Israeli and International Law) being committed daily that are fundamental to the current Israeli government policy.

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