Monday, January 17 2011

On Sunday, January 16th, 2011, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) accompanied by a heavy police presence destroyed the Bedouin village of Al Arakib for the 9th time since its total destruction in July 2010. During the village's destruction the police forces used large amounts of violent force, including sponge bullets (a police method of crowd dispersal) which injured eleven of the residents, one of them in his eye.

Demolishing al-Arakib

Police forces and Bulldozers approaching al-Arakib

This time it seems that the ILA has decided to expel the residents once and for all. This is corroborated by statements made by Shlomo Zeiser, the ILA officer in charge of inspection, in an interview with the "Walla" news website: "In addition to the ongoing work, we cleared away the debris from the previous demolitions, which were an environmental and safety hazard. At the same time, we started to prepare the place for planting, in order to protect the land there."

Throughout the demolitions the police forces arrested a number of residents who were protesting the destruction of their homes. Parallel to the demolition, ILA personnel began to clear away the remains of the eight previous demolitions, and started construction works to level the land in order to prepare it for planting trees. Activists who arrived at the village this morning (Monday, 17/1) in order to observe and document the events were stopped by police forces, and one of them, Tarabut's member Gadi Algazi, a historian from Tel Aviv University, was arrested by the police.

The village of Al Arakib has existed for 80 years. In the early 1950's the new Israeli state requested of the residents to leave their village temporarily, promising that they will be allowed to return to the village in six months. This promise was never fulfilled. In the beginning of the 1990's the village residents and their descendants decided to return to their lands and to make good on the promise that was made to them. Since then the Israeli government has been using different means to try to expel them again. Among the more outrageous attempts included sending airplanes to blanket the residents' wheat fields with toxic pesticides meant for weeds. After the High Court of Justice ruled that this method comprises a risk to health and human life, the government ceased using this method and began using tractors to uproot the young wheat sprouts. After the authorities realized that the Al Arakib residents were holding steadfast to their land and are not giving up, the government sent hundreds of heavily armed police and bulldozers to destroy the village and expel the residents by force. The first demolition was committed on the 27th of July, 2010, in which an entire fully populated village, including its houses, barns, orchards, and animal houses, was destroyed.

The residents returned and built dwellings for themselves, and the authorities returned and destroyed these eight times. After the second demolition Sheikh Sayah Al-Touri, the leader of the village, was exiled from the village and was forbidden from entering its lands. Al Turi was forced to dwell in the village's cemetery. From this cemetery Sheikh Al-Touri sent a message of peace and reconciliation to the residents of Israel, where he explained why the Bedouins are not invaders, and called on the government to cease the demolitions.

The ongoing demolitions are not a coincidence. They are part of the 30 Day Plan, which is the plan to rid the Negev of its Bedouin residents. The last demolition is also a part of this plan. What is happening at this very moment in Al Arakib is nothing new in the history of the State of Israel. Cleansing the land, of its original residents as well as of any remnant of their existence—structures, agricultural lands, trees, and more—and then covering the land with trees. This is a practice that has been put into place in many other places in Israel. For instance, after the 1967 war, the Arab villages of Yalo and Imwaas in the Latrun area were completely destroyed and the trees of "Canada Park" planted on their ruins. And so on and so forth, in dozens of different cases. And now it seems that the state is trying to erase any trace of the existence of the residents of Al Arakib and deny any connection they have to this place.

Demolishing al-Arakib

At this very moment, the residents of the village have been assembled in their village's cemetery overlooking the village, the same cemetery that they have used for 80 years. They are forbidden to approach what is left of their village. From the cemetery they can observe the bulldozers and other heavy machinery busy leveling their village, erasing any vestige of the human history of that place. Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le'Israel) employees are already preparing the ground for planting, and if we don't stop them before it's too late, the village's land will be covered with green saplings starting this Thursday, in anticipation of Tu BiShvat, the Festival of the Trees.

We cannot allow that to happen. This is ethnic cleansing, plain and simple. They expel human beings, destroy their homes, and try to erase any trace of their existence. This is an attempt to rewrite the history of Zionism, to retroactively prove the known Zionist motto: "A land without a people, for a people without a land." But this land was occupied. The residents of Al Arakib are living testimony of this, and for this reason, perhaps, the authorities are so determined and violent in their attempts to expel them from their lands.