Interview with Israeli activist Yeela Raanan

A destroyed structure at Twail Abu Jarwal. (Image courtesy of Yeela Raanan)

Absent from the mainstream media was news of the Israeli government destroying Twail Abu Jarwal for the second time in as many months. As a report carried on The Electronic Intifada informs, “Large police forces, with the aid of special-task forces and with the aerial help of a helicopter and two bulldozers, demolished the entire village.” However, the plight of the Bedouin villages unrecognized by the State of Israel remains off the radar.

Bedouin villages have been on the land since before the State of Israel was conceived. The Israeli government doesn’t recognise them and calls them illegal, and therefore they are not entitled to any infrastructure or services. The “illegal” villages lack even basic amenities such as running water and electricity.

According to Yeela Raanan of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (RCUV), the elders have held receipts since the 1970s of payments made to Israel for plots of land in the town of Laquia. They lived on other people’s land in shacks and tents on the outskirts of the town, waiting for the land — which never came — to build homes for their families. A few years ago, their makeshift homes outgrown, the Bedouin returned to their ancestral land.

According the the RCUV, Israel is employing various tactics in an attempt to confiscate the land. The recent demolitions flew in the face of the Israeli Knesset Interior Affairs and Environment Committee (IAEC) recommendation to postpone demolitions until the residents could find alternative housing. Israeli Interior Minister Roni Bar-On told the IAEC that the state has the authority to demolish all 42,000 illegal building of the Negev’s unrecognized villages.

“Knesset member Talab El-Sana from the United Arab List called the actions a crime no better than the IDF committed in Beit Hanoun. She also said the demolitions left children and the elderly without a roof over their heads in the dead of winter, and signified “a declaration of war by the state against its Bedouin citizens.” Arguing that while the state was demolishing Bedouin houses, it was also apporving the construction of tens of farms and houses for Jewish residents of the Negev. According to El-Sana this derived from “a policy of racism.”

In December 2006 a RCUV report stated, “This policy’s aim is to force the Bedouins off their ancestral lands and to concentrate the Bedouins in urban townships, regardless of their wishes or their culture. However, there are no options for living in the concentration towns the government has built, as there are no available plots of land for homes. Therefore the government can ‘legally’ demolish the homes of 80,000 members of this community, while they cannot build one ‘legal’ home.”

According to the RCUV’s Yeela Raanan, the latest demolition left 63 children and 30 adults without shelter in winter.

Yeela Raanan with Sliman Abu-Abaid, an RCUV community organizer in the RCUV offices. (Image courtesy of Yeela Raanan)

Yeela was born and brought up in the Israeli Negev. She spent a year (eighth grade) in W. Sussex England during her father’s Sabbatical year in 1978 and studied for her PHD in anthropology in Utah, where she lived with her family for ten years. Returning to Israel after her studies, Yeela worked as the coordinator for the Negev Coexistence Forum, a Jewish-Arab organization based in the Negev. She left the organization, and has been with the RCUV for almost two years. She also teaches for the department of Public Administration at Sapir College. Yeela is 41 years old, married and has three teenage sons. She has returned to the Negev and lives with her family in Kibbutz Beeri today.

As the RCUV liaison to the Civil Society, Leela is responsible for creating and maintaining working relationships with other (mostly Jewish) NGOs in Israel that are willing to work to promote the residents’ rights of the unrecognized villages. She handles the RCUV’s lobbying efforts. She also organizes the sheep and goat heard owners in their struggle for more rights in Israel and to forward their economic development.

Yeela answered a few of my questions via e-mail.

A Twail Abu Jarwal home being rebuilt with RCUV funding. (Image courtesy of Yeela Raanan)

Where are the homeless residents of Twail Abu Jarwal living now?

The Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) found an organization that donated 21 excellent large tents for the 21 homes that were demolished a couple of weeks ago. In addition people have been re-building their very modest tin homes. In any case, they have nowhere else to go, so they can stay at family for a day or so, but since we are talking about 100 people, their families cannot host them for more than a night or two.

What plans do you have in action to stop Israel’s minister of interior, Roni Bar-On from enacting his plans to destroy all Bedouin homes that Israel deems to be illegal?

Roni Bar-On cannot destroy all “illegal” homes, because it will be too much of an uproar, but he will push the borders of how many homes can be destroyed before the Negev burns. We have been working in all manners we can think of with the resources we have — including working with Israeli ministers (Meir Shitrit, the Minister of Building and Residence, who is “in charge of the Bedouins”, for example) and with other members of Knesset. In addition we are trying to get others to pressure our government — for example I am pleased that you received information of what is going on here, but we don’t have enough resources to pursue this as much as is needed. We are also working to empower the community, which has been suffering oppression for the last 58 years, and therefore is hard to bring together — they are afraid, and rightly so, of what will be done to them if they fight the system. Beyond working as we are today, the government, and Roni Bar-On in particular, have a lot of power and very little good will.

Why do you think the mainstream media hasn’t covered the story of Twail Abu Jarwal’s relentless destruction?

Because the Israeli government has launched an excellent campaign that portrays the Bedouins as land-grabbers, squatters and robbers of government (Jewish) lands. They are Arabs, and so in the Israeli psyche, part of the enemy camp. The governmental story is therefore believable for most Israelis.

What other major incidents have there been since 1948?

In the early 1950s all were concentrated in a reservation called the “Siyag” area. That means that many were uprooted, put on trucks and moved forcefully. This continued until the 1970s. Also Israel sprayed Bedouin crops sowed on disputed lands with herbicides, until the Israeli Supreme Court stopped this. The government is still destroying Bedouin crops with the use of tractors, but even leaving the villages of 80,000 citizens as “unrecognized”, meaning no water, electricity, roads, municipal services such as garbage disposal and sewer systems — and minimal community services such as medical care and schools — is a crime. Over half of the Bedouins citizens of Israel live in these conditions.

Has the mainstream media covered any of them?

Very scantly, and only when catastrophes occur. For example a child’s head was literally picked off by a bus that had to pass another bus driving in the opposite direction (in October of 2006) because the paths the busses take to the schools are impossibly narrow.

What do you think the international community should be doing to help the Bedouin tribes?

The international community must become knowledgeable. We will be happy to take people to visit the unrecognized villages, update via emails. The international community must use all channels available to pressure Israel to deal with this issue, and deal justly. To give these communities an economic boost, while allowing them to maintain their traditions and customs — for example allowing use of land for agriculture, animal husbandry, community size villages, and maintaining ownership of their ancestral lands.

Yeela Raanan can be contacted by telephone at 054 7487005 or at yallylivnat at for more information.

Liam Bailey writes regularly for the Palestine Chronicle and is an advanced blogger on the Washington Post’s Post Global blog. He runs the War Pages blog and you can contact him by e-mail:

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