Protests and strikes as Israel raids Bedouin villages, threatens to destroy homes

19 October 2012

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Palestinians face home demolitions in both Israel and the West Bank

(Menahem Kahana / AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

Accompanied by representatives of the Jewish National Fund and a special police unit known as Yassam, Israeli interior ministry officials raided Bir Hadaj at 9.30am on Thursday 11 October. The officials then handed out demolition orders against four houses, according to eyewitnesses.

A Palestinian Bedouin village located in the north-western Naqab (Negev) desert, Bir Hadaj was “recognized” by the Israeli government in 2004 after a daunting legal and popular struggle.

Under the jurisdiction of the Abu Basma Regional Council, Bir Hadaj is the largest village in the Abu Basma district, with a population of over 5,000. Despite formal recognition, Bir Haddaj hasn’t been spared the home demolition woes which haunt hundreds of “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Naqab.

School attacked

Angry at the most recent raid, some of the village’s youth burned tyres in protest soon after. Ayesh Abu Assa, an eyewitness, said that an extremely high number of police officers then invaded the village firing tear-gas, rubber bullets and some live ammunition.

The police also broke into the village’s elementary school, terrorizing children and firing tear-gas in the school’s vicinity. The police left the village at 12:30 pm after arresting three residents and injuring several others.

A spokesperson for the Israeli interior ministry said in a statement that the response of the police was proportional and blamed “political groups” for “inciting residents against the authorities and fomenting violence.”

This was not the first time that Bir Hadaj had received home demolition orders, nor will it be the last. Israel’s planning and construction authorities publicly threatened that hundreds of homes will follow.

Typically, the legal pretext for the demolition orders is that the houses were built without permit. The Israeli authorities pay no heed to the fact that it is virtually impossible for local people to get permits, so they have no alternative than to build without them.

Atiya al-Aassam, head of Abu Basma Regional Council, told The Electronic Intifada that since the recognition of Bir Hadaj, the Israeli authorities have “systematically turned down residents’ applications for building permits, completely ignoring the community’s needs and natural growth. This policy particularly affects young couples.”

Strike

Following these events, the High Steering Committee of the Arabs of the Naqab — a broad coalition of community groups and political organizations — called for a public strike across the Naqab on 18 October and a mass protest outside the Israeli interior ministry’s offices in the town of Bir al-Saba (Beersheva). In addition, residents of Bir Hadaj set up a protest tent in the village to call for an end to Israel’s policy of home demolitions.

Only a night before the planned protest and public strike, Israeli police stormed the village of Bir Hadaj and arrested a dozen of the village’s youth, accusing them of involvement in the riots. The night raid was akin to those carried out routinely by Israel in the occupied West Bank.

Undeterred, thousands of Palestinians from the Naqab flocked to Bir al-Saba to participate in the 18 October demonstration, where The Electronic Intifada talked to eyewitnesses. Several Palestinian political leaders, including Palestinian members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, attended the protest.

“We are fully aware that this demonstration is not enough. We are braced for a long battle,” said Suleiman Ibn Humeid, a member of the Bir Hadaj popular committee, after the protest. “The turnout and the energy were encouraging. We are against violence, but we are adamant to do everything in our power to protect our homes and land.”

The home demolitions hovering over Bir Hadaj should be seen in the wider context of the Prawer Plan, an Israeli government initiative to displace 70,000 Bedouins from the Naqab. Israel has also recently threatened to wipe the entire village of Umm Hiran off the map (“‘Turning Bedouin village into Jewish settlement is racist’,” Ynet News, 29 September).

The Naqab’s Palestinian residents and leaders will have to overcome the internal rifts, divisions and power struggles that have plagued them for years and allowed the Israeli occupation authorities to divide and rule over a beleaguered community.

The urgency of mobilizing to defend Palestinian Bedouins was highlighted by another crime committed by Israel in the Naqab shortly after the 18 October protest. For the 43rd time in the past two years, Israeli bulldozers invaded the village of al-Araqib and demolished it once again.

Budour Hassan is a Palestinian anarchist and a law graduate based in occupied Jerusalem.