by Ramzi Baroud
In this piece, the writer proves that Israeli measures against small villages remained in occupied Palestine is similar to same measures taken before the occupation.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestine has never ceased, seven decades after the tragic Nakba. Al Araqeeb Palestinian Bedouin village is a testimony to this fact. After the 1947-48 emptying of Palestine from most of its original inhabitants, Israel turned its focus to the Al Naqab (Negev) desert, initiating a brutal campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinian Bedouins from their ancestral homeland and replace them with newly-arriving Jewish immigrants.
By 1953, nearly 90 per cent of all Palestinians from the northern Negev area were expelled — some placed in reservations with limited economic opportunities and others sent to live in crowded refugee camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jordan. But many remained and others returned in violation of Israeli military orders.
Their story is the story of all Palestinian refugees who, despite their harsh conditions remained resolute in their determination to return home. Yet, no other refugee community symbolises the journey of exile and return as much as the residents of Al-Araqeeb, an ‘unrecognised village’ inhabited mostly by Al Turi Palestinian Arab tribe.
On August 1, the Palestinian Bedouin village of Al Araqeeb was destroyed for the 116th time. As soon as Israeli bulldozers had exhausted their loathsome attack and hundreds of soldiers and police officers began evacuating the premises, the village residents immediately began rebuilding their destroyed homes in an act of defiance and resolve.
By now, the residents of the devastated village are all familiar with the painful routine, considering that the first round of destruction took place in July 2010.
If the repeated destruction of the village is an indication of Israel’s insistence on uprooting Palestine’s Bedouins, its rebuilding is indicative of the tenacity of the Bedouin community in Palestine. It would be no exaggeration, therefore, to state that there is a specific war waged by Israel against Palestinian Bedouins. The aim is to destroy their culture and to force them into townships similar to those of Apartheid South Africa. The geographic space of that war extends from the Negev desert to the Southern Hebron Hills to occupied Jerusalem.
The epicentre of this ongoing fight is Al Araqeeb. Not only has Israel destroyed the resolute village 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 destruction wrought by the Israeli state.
According to latest estimates, the families that live in makeshift huts and rely on rudimentary means to survive, are expected to pay a bill of two million shekels (around Dh2.2 million). Israel dubs Al Araqeeb, along with 35 villages in Negev, as ‘unrecognised’ by the Israeli government’s master plan, hence they must be erased and their population driven into townships designated and made for the Bedouins. The Israeli plan to ethnically cleanse the Bedouins of Negev is no different from the plan to colonise the West Bank, Judaise the Galilee and Palestinian East Jerusalem. All such efforts always culminate in the same routine — the removal of Arabs and replacing them with Israeli Jews.
In 1965, Israel passed the Planning and Building Law which recognised some Palestinian Arab villages in the Galilee and southern Negev, but excluded others. Nearly 100,000 Bedouin were forcibly removed to ‘Planned Townships’ to endure economic neglect and poverty.
Currently, according to the Institute of Palestine Studies (IPS), roughly 130,000 individuals live in the so-called unrecognised 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 colonists — not Palestinians — that ‘made the desert bloom’.
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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,” stated the IPS. Moreover, Jewish colonists did not arrive in Negev till 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 Negev prior to 1948 came to three times that cultivated by the entire Jewish community in all of Palestine even after 60 years of “pioneering” Zionist [colony],” the IPS concluded. To reverse this indisputable historical reality, Israel has led a decided campaign aimed at vanquishing the Bedouins by severing their relationship with their land. Although this has been done with a great degree of success, the struggle is not yet over.
To preclude any legal wrangling, the Israeli 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”, the goal of which was the destruction of all unrecognised villages in the Negev. However, massive mobilisation involving the Bedouins and Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories defeated this idea, which was officially rescinded in December of the same year. But, now, it is being revived under the name ‘Prawer II’. A draft of the plan, which was leaked to local media, was introduced by Israel’s Agricultural 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 Bedouin is, of course, 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 Centre for Arab Minority Rights. Many of these laws are aimed at depriving Palestinians of the right to own land or even 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 per cent of the population, they live on merely 3 per cent 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 some way, Al Araqeeb represents the story of all of Palestine and its people. The struggle of this village should evoke outrage at Israel’s constant violation of human rights and its refusal to recognise the national aspirations and rights 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, of a nation.