In the early hours of 10 August, Israeli forces destroyed — for the third time — the Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the northern Negev desert. Israel had first destroyed the village on 27 July as EI reported, and each time the villagers have attempted to rebuild. Joseph Dana witnessed the latest destruction.
We arrived in the darkness. The horizon was blurred from the desert night sky and all that could be seen was ruin. Piles of concrete, steel reinforcing bars and wood in places where the village once sat. In this maze of construction material there were small makeshift living spaces, barely suitable for the harsh desert climate. Simple tent structures consisting of four wood shafts and a black tarp was the only remains of this village.
We, Israeli and international activists, were invited to sit in these tents through the night and sip coffee in the cool desert night with the villagers. They told us about their livelihood now that the village is constantly facing demolition. Some talked about their military service in the Israeli army and their disbelief that the country they served could behave in such a way as to destroy their entire village. Others expressed hope that at least some Israelis understood the grave nature of their government and were standing arm in arm with them.
As the night closed and the light began to change, the first sounds of the demolition crew could be heard far off in the distance. Before we had time to blink, 200 fully clad police officers were on microphones telling us to leave and that any violence would be met with harsher violence. As soon as the voices on the microphones stopped, the bulldozers began to work. The place we had been sitting and having coffee through the night was leveled before our groggy, disbelieving eyes. We barely had time to register the fact that the village was being leveled, as the police began pushing us away from the living structures with extreme force.
The demolition crew worked efficiently and without pause. Every structure that served some form of life in the village was leveled and all the building materials from it were trucked away. As we were pushed further from the village, a couple of activists tried to sit inside or in front of the tents. This was met with violence by the police as people were thrown to the ground like rag dolls. At one point in the chaos, a professor of medieval history at Tel Aviv University was grabbed by a police officer, who quickly wrenched his hand behind his back. The professor was held like this for a number of minutes and then arrested. It is still unclear under what terms.
Finally, the police confined us to a hilltop and had us look over the village as it was destroyed. The water canisters, which are needed because Israel refuses to give the villagers water pipes, were broken and then placed on flat bed trucks to be carted away. The image of massive bulldozers flanked by heavily armed riot police destroying makeshift Bedouin living structures is something that no one would be able to forget. As soon as the forces left, the villagers began rebuilding what little they have left. Every week, their resources shrink and yet they rebuild. They have no choice.
All of the police officers and members of the demolition crew this morning were simply following orders. It was another day for them and due to the Israeli cultural understanding of the Bedouins and Palestinians as “nearly people,” they will probably not lose a wink of sleep this evening. However, the complete destruction of the village of al-Araqib is yet another powerful example of the Israeli banality of evil.
Joseph Dana, a writer and filmmaker living in Jerusalem, is active in direct action groups such as Taayush and the Anarchists Against the Wall. His website is josephdana.com.