It means the village has been destroyed nearly 17 times per year since then. Every single time it was rebuilt, only to be destroyed again. If the repeated destruction of the village is an indication of Israel’s stubborn insistence on uprooting Palestine’s Bedouins, the rebuilding is indicative of the tenacity of the Bedouin community in Palestine. But Al-Araqeeb is only symbolic of that historic fight.
It is no exaggeration to state that there is a war waged by Israel against Palestinian Bedouins. The aim is to destroy their culture and force them into townships, similar to those of apartheid South Africa. The geographic space of that war extends from the Negev desert to the South Hebron Hills to Jerusalem.
The epicenter of the ongoing fight is Al-Araqeeb. Not only has Israel destroyed it numerous times in violation of international law, it actually delivers a bill to the homeless residents, expecting them to cover the cost of the very ruins wrought by the Israeli state. According to the latest estimates, the families that live in makeshift huts and rely on rudimentary means to survive are expected to pay a bill of 2 million shekels ($600,000).
Israel dubs Al-Araqeeb, along with 35 villages in the Negev, as “unrecognized” by the government’s master plan, so they must be erased and their population driven into townships made for the Bedouins. But these villages are older than Israel, and any such master plan could have easily considered this reality. However, what Israel truly labors to achieve is to replace the Bedouins with its own Jewish population, as it has tirelessly done for seven decades.
Palestinian Bedouins are known for their tenacity. They fully fathom the history and plight of their ancestors, where generation after generation were ethnically cleansed and exiled to refugee camps outside Palestine, or forcibly removed to other areas. Today’s Bedouin communities refuse to be subjected to that same fate again.
The Israeli plan to ethnically cleanse the Bedouins of the Negev is no different from the plan to colonize the West Bank and Judaize the Galilee and Palestinian East Jerusalem. All such efforts culminate in the same routine of removing Arabs and replacing them with Israeli Jews.
In 1965, Israel passed the Planning and Building Law, which recognized some Palestinian Arab villages in the Galilee and southern Negev, but excluded others. Nearly 100,000 Bedouins were forcibly removed to “planned townships” to endure economic neglect and poverty. Many refused to be moved, and since then they have fought a protracted war to survive and maintain a semblance of their culture and way of life. Currently, according to the Institute of Palestine Studies (IPS), roughly 130,000 individuals live in the so-called unrecognized villages “under the constant threat of wholesale demolition.” The anomaly is that these Bedouin communities prove the fallacy of the Israeli claim that it was Jewish settlers, not Palestinians, who “made the desert bloom.”
A simple look at statistics demolishes that deceptive claim entirely. As of 1935 — 13 years prior to the existence of Israel — Bedouins “cultivated 2,109,234 dunums of land where they grew most of Palestine’s barley and much of the country’s wheat,” said the IPS. Jewish settlers did not arrive in the Negev until 1940, and by 1946 the total Jewish population there did not amount to more than 475.
“The amount of land cultivated by the Bedouins in the Negev prior to 1948 came to three times that cultivated by the entire Jewish community in all of Palestine even after sixty years of ‘pioneering’ Zionist settlement,” the IPS concluded. To reverse this indisputable historical reality, Israel has led a campaign to vanquish the Bedouins by severing their relationship to their land. Although this has been done with a great degree of success, the struggle is not yet over. The same struggle is duplicated elsewhere, especially in so-called Area C, encompassing 60 percent of the West Bank. Palestinian Bedouin villages there are also enduring a terrible fight, as many of their villages have been singled out for destruction. Most West Bank Bedouins live in a central area known as the South Hebron Hills. Last month, it was reported that Israel’s Supreme Court is “deciding the fate” of the Bedouin village of Dkeika. Other villages in the area have either been demolished, received demolition orders, or are waiting for their fate to be determined by the court. It is hardly a question of a single village or two. The UN reported that 46 villages in the central West Bank are “at risk of forcible transfer” by the Israeli government.
Not only has Israel destroyed it numerous times in violation of international law, it expects the Bedouins to cover the cost of the very ruins.
To preclude any legal wrangling, the government has been actively pursuing wholesale, irreversible actions to seal the fate of Bedouins once and for all. In 2013, Israel announced the Prawer Plan, whose goal was the destruction of all unrecognized villages in the Negev. But massive mobilization involving Bedouins and Palestinians throughout the occupied territories defeated the plan, which was officially rescinded in December that same year.
However, it is now being revived under the name Prawer II. A draft of the plan, which was leaked to local media, was introduced by Israel’s Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel. It, too, aims to “deny Bedouin citizens land ownership rights and violate their constitutional protections,” reported Patrick Strickland.
The war on the Bedouins is part of the larger war on all Palestinians, whether in Israel or under military occupation. While the latter are denied the most basic freedoms, the former are governed by at least 50 discriminatory laws, according to the Haifa-based Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights. Many of these laws are aimed at depriving Palestinians of the right to own land, or to claim the very land upon which their homes and villages existed for tens and hundreds of years.
It should come as no shock, then, to learn that while Palestinian citizens of Israel are estimated at 20 percent of the population, they live on merely 3 percent of the land, and many of them face the constant danger of being evicted and relocated elsewhere.
The story of Al-Araqeeb is witness to the never-ending Israeli desire for colonial expansion at the expense of the indigenous population of Palestine, but also of the courage and refusal to give in to fear and despair, as demonstrated by the 22 families of this brave village. In a way, Al-Araqeeb represents the story of all of Palestine and its people.
The struggle of Al-Araqeeb should evoke outrage at Israel’s constant violation of human rights, and its refusal to recognize the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. But it should also induce hope that 70 years of colonial expansion cannot defeat or even weaken the will of a village or a nation.
• Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press). Visit his website: www.ramzybaroud.net.