Pick of the Week: Bedouins get mobilized as Israel pushes them off their land

Via Palestine Monitor: http://www.palestinemonitor.org/?p=2780
Author: Silvia Boarini

Al-Araqib and the Bedouins

At the break of dawn on 27 July 2010, the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Araqib, home to the Turi tribe, was surrounded by 1,500 police officers clad in black riot gear.
February, 2010: Al-Araqib as it was before the mass demolition of July 2010.
Helicopters circled overhead as bulldozers uprooted hundreds of olive trees and razed homes and animal pens to the ground. It took four hours to demolish a village that was home to around 250 people, hundreds of sheep, dozens of goose, hens, pigeons and some horses.
Since that first demolition, fifteen months ago, al-Araqib has been destroyed another 29 times. In January, the few remaining inhabitants were forced to live within the perimeter of the village cemetery – or face arrest.
The repeated razing to the ground of this Bedouin community is connected to the state’s decision to allow the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to plant a forest in its stead.
A couple of years ago, despite a ruling on ownership of al-Araqib’s lands still pending in the Beersheva district court – al-Turi vs Israel Land Administration (ILA) –  the JNF began planting trees in the areas surrounding the village.
To this day, after each demolition, the al-Turi clan continues to claim ownership of the area outside the cemetery by re-building structures where their original houses stood.
Al-Araqib is one of 38 Bedouin villages that dot the Negev but are not recognized by the Israeli government. Despite being home to 80,000–roughly half the Negev Bedouin population–they do not appear on any Israeli maps.
It was in 1951, soon after the establishment of the state of Israel, that Bedouins were first evacuated from their land by government authorities, often with the excuse that it was needed for army training and the promise that they would be able to return to it within six months.
They were forced to live under military rule within a delimited area that became known in Arabic as the Siyag, “enclosure,” until 1966. Enforcing Ottoman and absentees property laws, Israel proceeded to declare the seemingly empty land in the Negev property of the state.
In the ’70s, Israel began promoting a forced urbanization program and Bedouins were once again pushed to resettle—this time, in seven state-planned townships near Beersheva, with promises of jobs, agricultural land and good infrastructure.
Some tribes made the move, while others refused to be dispossessed once more.
As the years went by, many of the evacuated Bedouin sites were redeveloped as Jewish settlements and thousands of dunams of tribal lands were earmarked for forestation.
All of this, despite over 1,000 land claims lodged by Bedouins still pending in the Beersheva district court.
It also became clear that the purpose-built townships—that resemble overcrowded urban slums and are now home to the other half of the Bedouin population (roughly 90,000)—had been just another way to cordon off this minority within a confined area. 
As many families quickly discovered, their new urban homes lacked precisely what they had been promised: good services, job opportunities and most of all there was no chance to sustain the Bedouins’ rural lifestyle.
Instead, year after year the towns continue to feature amongst the poorest in Israel and have gone on to develop social problems typical of failing western societies, such as high unemployment rates, drug abuse, and crime.
For this reasons, and in protest at the state’s disregard for the land claims still pending in the court, many families have returned to the sites of their ancestral villages, both to reclaim their original place in the desert and their rights as Israeli citizens.
Others refuse to move to the townships and prefer to stay where the government had moved them in 1951, within what was the Siyag. There, they weren’t, and still aren’t, allowed to build any permanent structures to accommodate the natural growth of the village.
Today, Israeli authorities consider both groups as squatters and invaders of state land.  In these unrecognized villages, Bedouins have no access to running water, electricity or public services. They also live in constant fear of demolitions.
Sheikh Saiah is the head of the al-Turi clan of al-Araqib. He wears the traditional white tunic and keeps a knife in his belt. His head is covered by a white keffyah and his silver mustache is trimmed to perfection.
He returned to al-Araqib with his tribe in the 1990s, after learning, by chance, that ILA had unilaterally given permission to the JNF to begin planting on the disputed area.
When I met him in 2009, Sheikh Saiah sat in the village shig, a tent that serves as a gathering place for the men. His charisma was matched by his loud and clear voice.
He went to the heart of the matter.
“Who occupied whom?” He began. “Did we maybe occupy our own land? How is it that now it’s us who need to prove that these are our lands?
“Are their trees better than ours that they need to uproot what we have planted and re-plant their own?”
Today, the shig is no more. Instead, a sad wasteland meets the eye. Rubble of recent demolitions sits awkwardly in the newly geometrically re-arranged landscape. JNF workers have prepared hundreds of low narrow earth mounds for new trees.
The Negev represents 60 percent of Israel’s landmass and is home to only eight percent of its population.  So why, villagers ask, is it crucial that this forest is planted exactly on top of their village?
Given the opportunity, they are convinced that al-Araqib would have as much chance to flourish as any Jewish community around it.. In the Negev, though, Bedouins don’t seem to feature in Israel’s plans.
The state recently approved a total of 1,500 housing units near the Negev town ofAradto accommodate the staff of a new military base there.
The housing project, as detailed in the government proposal, fits within the “Zionist vision for making the Negev flourish, and [is] in line with the government’s policies of development, progress, attracting the population to the periphery and increasing the availability of housing,” Zafrir Rinat reports, in Haaretz last August.
The Prawer Plan
On 6 October 2011, Sheikh Saiah addressed an audience of thousands of Bedouins, who had descended upon Beersheva to protest against government approval of the Prawer Plan.
This controversial plan,which aims to solve land ownership claims in the Negev, would see the forced relocation of 30,000 Bedouins from unrecognized villages into the state-planned townships and possible recognition of less than a third of the land claimed by Bedouins.
In a repeat of recent Israeli history in the Negev, the Plan has been drawn up with no consultation whatsoever with the interested party, the Bedouins.
The Prawer Plan came about after recommendations put forward by the 2009 Goldberg Report on the policy regarding Bedouins were deemed too generous to implement.
And so, starting from the recommended recognition of unrecognized villages as laid out in the Goldberg report, somehow, the Prawer Plan forces relocation and provides no recognition.
The Prawer Plan, will be enforced through a series of laws that many civil rights organizations worry will grant no help or assistance to evicted Bedouins. The Plan seems to signify a point of no return.
From the podium, Sheikh Saiah called for steadfastness. He himself would set the example by staying on his tribal land no matter how many hundreds of times Al-Araqib may be demolished, he said.
His village has become the symbol of the struggle to achieve equal rights for the Bedouin population in the Negev. People in the crowd, which was mostly Bedouin but included a few hundred Jewish-Israeli activists too, wore stickers on their chests that read, “We are all al-Araqib.”
The village has been instrumental in reframing the issue of Bedouin dispossession. It’s no longer just a question of internal Israeli politics, but a universal campaign for equality and human rights.
Al-Araqib has helped catapult the plight of this minority group into the media’s sphere. In less than a year, Bedouins have gone from an uncoordinated and dispersed group to an organized network that spans the Negev and reaches Arab communities in the Galilee.
Behind the scenes, many Jewish-Arab grassroots organizations, like the Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF) and the Recognition Forum or the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages (RCUV), have worked tirelessly to achieve this.
These organizations have played a central role by working within Bedouin communities. After many years of solidarity actions such as house rebuilding, tree planting and government lobbying, some Bedouins have opened their highly conservative communities to local and international activists as well as the media.
And so this time in Beersheva it wasn’t the usual suspects shouting at the top of their lungs. It was thousands of Bedouins, tired of being told by their own government that they do not exist.
Many human rights and civil society groups, see the Prawer Plan as an unnecessary provocation towards an Arab-Israeli minority that since 1948 has posed no security threat whatsoever to the state.
Haia Noach, of the NCF, is worried that its implementation may be what tilts the already fragile coexistence balance in theNegev.
“Israel is not accepting the Bedouins as citizens,” she says. “They don’t have water or electricity. There is no equality for them and the Prawer Plan is not tackling these issues.”
Rather, NCF argues, the plan may well trigger the largest forced displacement in Israel since its establishment in 1948 – one that, this time, will not go unnoticed in the local and international press.
“The Bedouin youth has nothing to lose,” warns Noach. “They do not have money and they do not have jobs. They are not going to accept another dispossession. And if violence breaks out then it will be impossible for anyone at all to live here.”
If this government does manage to push this minority, with no history of violent resistance, towards an uprising, it will be for nothing.
As Haaretz reported, “even if the Bedouins’ most sweeping demands are accepted, [the land in question] wouldn’t cover more than five percent of the region,” leaving more than plenty for Jewish settlement.
The government’s unwillingness to grant Bedouins their demands might be dictated by the need to avoid setting any legal precedents in favor of the indigenous population.
Sometimes, though, there appears to be another hope linked toIsrael’s intransigence: that
as life becomes more and more difficult , Arabs (and this applies to the West Bank too) might just give up living in Israel, or Area C, altogether.
Second part of article here.