Early Friday morning I took a train to Tel Aviv which would be connecting point to Beer Sheva, the largest city in southern Israel (referred to as the Negev in Hebrew and the Naqab in Arabic). Sitting on the train and observing the people around me I was mostly struck by how many young soldiers were nonchalantly walking around in their green uniforms and frightening machine guns. I have grown accustomed to the uniforms but the guns are only familiar to me from internet videos where I see them being used against Palestinians. I have not grown accustomed to their sight and I hope I never do. Every time I see one I wonder how it was used in the past and what it may be used on in the future – gives me shivers every time I think about it.
Once I arrived in Tel Aviv I jumped on the first sherut to Beer Sheva where my good friend from work is living with her husband. She mostly works in the Naqab office where Adalah”s work centers around the Bedouin populations and the plethora of problems affecting them.
A little history before I explain where I actually went…
The Bedouin of Israel are ethnically Arab and traditionally semi-nomadic, who survived from herding and agriculture. In the age of modernity they have been forced to become sedentary, establishing themselves in communities dispersed throughout that is known today as the Negev. After the state of Israel was established they were relocated by the Israeli government in the 1950s and 1960s to a restricted zone in the northeast corner of the Negev, called the Siyag (“closure”), comprising 10% of the land and relatively infertile land. Between 1950 and 1966, the new State of Israel imposed a military administration over Arabs in the region and designated 85% of the Negev “State Land”. All Bedouin habitation on
this newly-declared State Land was retroactively termed illegal and “unrecognized”. Today about 75,000 Bedouin live in 40 unrecognized villages, disconnected from any infrastructure and deprived of the most basic modern necessities such as running water, electricity etc.
The Israeli government has built 7 recognized cities where they are attempting to force the Bedouins to settle. The problem is that these 7 cities are considered 7/8 poorest cities in Israel with the highest crime rates, lowest employment rate with no industrial zones, many of them still not connected to the state”s basic infrastructure. Additionally forcing a clan based and nomadic peoples into a closed urban zone completely contradicts their traditionally lifestyle and results in the unnatural alteration of an entire people”s culture. You can see how this could result in massive strife, not to mention a horrible case of societal identity crisis. I”m pretty sure that it was just a bad idea to begin with and I can guarantee it won”t end well for either party.
Yesterday I visited one of these unrecognized villages: Al Araqib. The mother who took me in as one of her own shortly after I arrived to the site told me their story in Bedouin dialect (in addition to at least 10 percent of her words being Hebrew) and her 8th child jumping all over her but I think I got the jist. This village was originally owned by Bedouin families but shortly after the state was established in 1948 they were forced to live on another land, one to which they had no claim of ownership. All Bedouin families were forced to live on lands they didn”t own – Zionist attempts to break their ties with their land to which many still hold Ottoman deeds. The state told them they would return six months later. However, in the 1990s these families decided that they would not wait any longer. They returned on their own (illegally according to the state of Israel). They build homes and established lives on their historical lands. Since July of 2010 the Israeli government has literally demolished their village on 7
different occasions. The 7th time took place a couple of days ago on October 13th, 2010.
I sat with one of the mothers, Hakmeh, who talked to me for 3 hours. Mind you, despite that my friend and I came alone we were treated like family. I can’t tell you how comfortable I felt with these people. I was told they were backwards, wearing Niqabs (full veils), highly conservative people. Palestinians often refer to Bedouins as backwards, primitive and unrefined. That wasn”t my experience. I discovered yesterday though that those words are just inaccurate interpretations of characteristics known as honest, real, and unbelievably strong. Most of the men were off somewhere dealing with the fact that their village was destroyed for the 7th time and we were able to hear the stories and perspectives of the wives. First of all, they reminded me more of my mother than any other Arab woman I”ve ever met – I guess she really is a Bedouin! These women are literally living in tents today and continue to rebuild make shift homes each time they are destroyed.
The land looked like a barren, desert dumping ground. I couldn”t imagine that there was much to demolish to begin with. However, after speaking to the women and being shown pre-July 2010 demolition photos I saw that the town consisted of concrete homes with all the modern conveniences
- kitchens, bathrooms, couches television sets, bedrooms etc. The earth was green – there was color – olive trees and all types of fruit trees existed on the land, providing them with food and life. In addition, among the rubble where young children played I saw chickens and geese and pigeons plucking away. I wondered what they were doing there but I soon discovered that the villagers used to casino francais en ligne raise chickens in coop structures which were also destroyed by the Israeli military.
To add to some more of your depression one of the women told me that some years back they had made an agreement with a Jewish town about water usage. The Jewish town had control of all the local water sources so they agreed that if the Bedouin village bought hoses and made all the connections they could share the water. Shortly after this was done the Bedouins found that several holes were poked into the hoses and subsequently filled with dirt. When she told me this story my eyes immediately filled with tears. I can”t understand how people can dehumanize each other to such an extent that they”d sabotage such basic necessities.
In the evening the weather cooled and the calm was of the night was unbelievable. We were literally in the middle of the desert, there aren”t any roads leading to it. The only paved one that existed was destroyed so that cars would be significantly damaged driving into the encampment. It felt like a camping ground – except this wasn”t a few days away from civilization – it was their lives. We were served a delicious dish of rice, chicken, potatoes with, of course, a nice cup of coca cola to go with it! For some pleasant table talk, one mother told us of her children”s psychological state. She said that she used to be able to leave for hours to visit her sisters while the kids would play. Today, she can”t leave for more than an hour. The children have become exhausted and paranoid for fear of soldiers reentering. Today, men are constantly on the look out, waiting for the next contingency of soldiers to come destroy the little they have left. They”ve developed quick emergency plans to save what little they can of their belongings. During the last demolition, the woman who served us dinner told us that she was able to grab her priorities – the children”s school clothes and books (their most expensive and valuable belongings). If they don”t get them out before the bulldozers arrive, these destructive machines will gather all the rubble of the homes and the belongings buried under it and take them straight to a dump. During one of the previous demolitions the same woman threw a stone at one of the soldiers in full riot gear. As a response he shoved her onto the rocky ground without hesitation. She proudly told us that she is filing a complaint with the police station for this act. I didn”t know what to think of that. Aren”t those police officers from the same establishment which sent these men to destroy your homes and livelihoods? What would they do for her? She reiterated that they could use the law to fight these demolitions – I”m glad one of us has faith in the law. She told me “I”m not scared anymore. I can’t be.” I
believed her and I honestly think that her young children couldn”t be in better hands.
Despite all of this continuous destruction and damage the attitudes of these people were amazing. They were strong, proud and grounded. At the end of the night we saw an international group of men from al harakeh al Islamia (the Islamic movement) who had been brought to the village to see its destruction. A man in the traditional jalabiya was giving one of the typical, passionate speeches, attempting to fire up
the crowd. I don”t know if that works anymore. Either way, we were driven home in one of the village resident”s Mercedes Benz, down the rocky unpaved roads (ironic much?). Many of the family has been forced to go live in the largest Israeli established Bedouin town, Rahat, where the situation is much better. He bid us farewell and invited us to come back again. I am definitely returning.
I woke up this morning feeling like yesterday was a dream. Even after seeing it, it still feels unreal – a life completely different than what I”m used to. I just pray that the next time I visit I won’t be visiting after demolition number 8.
For additional info: http://english.aljazeera.net/photo_galleries/middleeast/