BY : Amy Addison-Dunne and Marwa Koçak
Once again, the Palestinians of Al-Naqab (The Negev) are battling extinction. For many years, the besieged group, which has existed longer than Israeli occupation itself, has fought against repeated attempts to take the land. Scenes of confrontations with the police have dominated the news as they try to remove the group from the area.
According to Sheikh Osama Okaby, a member of the region’s Supreme Council, around 320,000 live in The Negev, and he comes from the 80,000-strong city of Rahat filled with Palestinian whose land was taken, due to their homes being deemed ‘unrecognised’.
“Even if the occupation wants to make a new Nakba, they will have to handcuff people, old and young, to carry them in trucks and send them outside the land”
“The Israeli operation in The Negev is thuggery, and done by arrogant force with weapons, and encouraged by normalization with Arab countries, they are fighting us. Can you imagine that my son goes to school in the morning and comes back in the evening and finds the house a pile of rubble, so how does this child feel?” says Osama.
“Today I saw a seven-year-old child who was in a state of panic and hysteria during the Israeli forces’ assault on us today. Who is responsible for this. This is the occupier who does not want us to stay on the land of Palestine.”
Over the past week, there has been a brutal Israeli assault on the Palestinian Bedouins. Women and children have been arrested for standing against the occupation forces, including four girls of various ages, two of whom have now been released, with the other two remaining in detention.
“Yesterday they attacked us with armoured trucks, with tear gas while we were bare-chested, and now, there is a wounded person in a critical condition. But despite all this, this does not frighten us. This only increases our determination to protect our land, and we will not abandon it,” Osama says.
Palestinian journalist Sabreen Al-Asam, who is reporting on the ground and is a resident of Tel as-Sabi, says arrests have been made of minors: “Since the campaign began, they have arrested 30 people, about four girls under the age of 18, most of the detainees are minors. There are attempts to release some of them, but there is some intransigence in this matter by the police and the Israeli judicial system.”
Palestinian Bedouins, although treated as a pest to be wiped out by the Israeli occupation, are highly educated, and during the pandemic have been invaluable to fighting the spread of deadly Covid-19.
“There are now hundreds of doctors who work for them in Israeli hospitals, at the time of the Coronavirus pandemic, had it not been for our doctors, they would have a catastrophe now in their hospitals. We also have nurses, teachers, engineers and university doctors,” says Osama.
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) has had The Negev (Al-Naqab) in its crosshairs for a while, intent on continuing its campaign of aggressive planting of non-native pine trees which has been occurring for many years, including mass afforestation over the ruins of Arab villages razed to the ground during the 1948 Nakba. The JNF’s primary aim is to drive out these people and use the land to build more settlements.
The project, worth a whopping $48 million, is targeting six villages in The Negev, and JNF has already begun its tree-planting project; a scheme that has full backing from the government.
“The situation under Bennett has become more clear. Every Israeli government is a bad government to the Palestinian citizen. The occupier sees us as an enemy as an Arab and does not see us as citizens even if he gives us IDs and the name of the citizen,” explains Sabreen.
However, the Bedouin are not so easily removed. Many of them hold the deeds to the land dating back to the Ottoman empire, yet Israel has ignored this ample proof of ownership and declared Palestinian Bedouin villages unrecognised and on state land since its formation in 1948. A Palestinian presence in The Negev desert dates back centuries, with the first recorded presence of the community being literally thousands of years ago.
Despite the hardship piled on the besieged group, they steadfastly stay put, adamant they will not give up their land to the occupation.
“The Israeli operation in the Negev is thuggery, and done by arrogant force with weapons, and encouraged by normalization with Arab countries, they are fighting us”
“We live on our land that we inherited from our parents and grandparents, we do not want to leave our land, we live on our land despite the difficulty of life, for example when we want our children to go to school, they walk more than 6 km on their feet,” says Osama.
“If one of us is sick or if there is a woman at the time of delivery, the foetus may die in her womb before we reach the hospital. due to the long way from the village to the main street that leads to the hospital.”
But, despite this, Osama insists they will remain on the land, and pass it down to their own children and grandchildren for generations to come.
“Even if the occupation wants to make a new Nakba, they will have to handcuff people, old and young, to carry them in trucks and send them outside the land. You cannot force them to leave, because they understand very well that leaving this time means that they would lose their land forever,” Sabreen says, firmly.
Amy Addison-Dunne is a freelance digital journalist with an interest in the Middle East and British politics. She has written for the Daily Mirror, Morning Star.
Marwa Koçak is a journalist and translator with an interest in politics and human rights in the Middle East. She speaks Arabic, English and Turkish. She has written for Middle East Eye, Al-Jazeera.