Israel destroys Bedouin village, again

Bedouin in al-Araqib attempt to rebuild their village days after it was destroyed by Israeli forces, 31 July 2010. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

Bulldozers returned to the village of al-Araqib in the northern Negev on Wednesday, 4 August, and demolished approximately ten new structures residents and supporters had built a week after Israeli forces completely destroyed the village on 27 July.

Hundreds of Bedouin Palestinians, who hold Israeli citizenship, were made homeless last week after Israeli police, supported by bulldozers, helicopters and busloads of cheering Israeli civilians, razed the entire village to the ground. Investigative journalist Max Blumenthal revealed that not only were Israeli civilians brought in busloads to inspirit the destruction of al-Araqib on 27 July, but Israeli youth were employed by a private security outsourcing firm to physically assist in the ethnic cleansing project itself (“A Tale of Two Summer Camps and One Dark Future, 3 August 2010).

In the days following the destruction of al-Araqib, local community organizations, including the Higher Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, brought building supplies and materials and had rebuilt several homes. On Wednesday, a unit of the Israeli Lands Administration alongside dozens of riot police invaded the village and destroyed the new structures.

Member of Knesset (Israel’s parliament) Talab al-Sana (Balad), who is Bedouin, was amongst protesters who attempted to prevent the demolition of one of the new buildings. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, al-Sana was injured and fainted during clashes between the Israeli police and unarmed demonstrators in the village. Several people, including Knesset member Iman Udah from the Hadash party, were also injured and arrested (“Police clash with Bedouin attempting to rebuild razed village,” 4 August 2010).

Haaretz reported yesterday that the al-Araqib popular committee stated that “all attempts to uproot the residents of the village will fail in the end,” and that it “deepens the crisis of distrust between the [Israeli] state and its Bedouin citizens.”

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) plans to build a forest on the land of al-Araqib. The majority of villagers still live in tents on their land, and the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that locals said they will keep rebuilding their homes. The JNF, a para-state institution, has worked since before the establishment of the State of Israel to erase and appropriate Palestinian land.

According to researcher Hazem Jamjoum, “the JNF is the central pillar of Israel’s regime over land. As a Zionist ‘national’ agency unburdened by restrictions on whether or not it treats citizens equally, the state has systematically subcontracted the JNF for the implementation of demographically engineering the land in the country in favor of the Jewish community, or what Israeli officials have called ‘Judaization’ ” (“Challenging the Jewish National Fund,” 21 July 2010).

On Tuesday, 3 August, Israeli forces invaded and demolished several other smaller Bedouin villages in the Negev. The Palestine Information Center (PIC) reported that the villages of Qasr al-Sirr, Abu Salb and Rakhma were invaded by Israeli bulldozers and homes were destroyed. PIC reported that Israeli police forces assaulted a physically disabled man as he tried to stop the demolition of his home (“Israeli army raids villages in Negev, demolishes dozens of homes,” 3 August 2010).

Settlement building continues apace

Meanwhile, the Israeli settlement-monitoring organization Peace Now released a report this week that documents at least 462 violations of the Israeli government’s “moratorium” on settlement construction, which began in November 2009 and is set to expire next month (“Eight months into the settlement freeze”). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he will not extend the moratorium period, and as The Electronic Intifada reported earlier, settler groups have already begun planning accelerated settlement construction to begin the day after the moratorium ends.

Using evidence of aerial photographs, Peace Now says in its report that “there is almost no freeze or even a visible slowdown, despite the fact that legal construction starts have been frozen for eight months. It also means that the government of Israel is not enforcing the moratorium.”

The organization remarked that approximately 600 new housing units have begun to be constructed during the moratorium period, including 223 “permanent structures” and 167 trailer-caravans.

“On the eve of the freeze,” states Peace Now’s report, “the Israeli government approved some 492 housing units to be started during the freeze (and an additional 112 units that were granted during the freeze in Beitar Illit). Only 141 of those exceptions have begun to be built, and therefore according to Peace Now’s count, at least 462 new housing units have been built illegally in violation of the freeze. Within these 462 units, 31 caravans and seven permanent structures have been built in outposts and not only do they violate the settlement freeze but they violate the Laws of Planning and Construction.”

Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday that the Netanyahu government was responsible for not successfully enforcing the moratorium policy. “In some places the government doesn’t know about it and in some places it is trying to ignore it,” he said.

Additionally, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) released a report on Tuesday stating that approximately 517,774 Jewish settlers live in illegal settlement colonies inside the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem. PCBS found that “the number of settlers who live in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories increased by more than 40 times during the period of 1972 to 2009.” PCBS says that there are currently 144 settlements in the occupied West Bank, including 26 in the Jerusalem governorate (“Statistical Report About Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Territory 2009,” 3 August 2010).

Destruction of Muslim graves

Meanwhile, Ma’an reported on 4 August that bulldozers in West Jerusalem resumed destroying Muslim graves in the Mamilla cemetery, which has been a sacred burial ground for Muslims since the seventh century. The Al-Aqsa Foundation for Waqf and Heritage told Ma’an that it condemns the destruction of 15 graves on Wednesday morning “by Israeli workers who started overturning the cemetery” (“Foundation: Israel bulldozes 15 graves in Jerusalem cemetery”). The Alternative Information Center, based in Jerusalem, added that Israeli police accompanied the bulldozers during the demolition operations (“Israel destroys 15 more Mamilla graves,” 4 August 2010).

The Mamilla cemetery is being demolished for the building of a “Museum of Tolerance” by the Simon Wiesenthal Center on the site. Descendants of individuals buried in the historic Muslim cemetery, in addition to local prominent Palestinian families and international human rights organizations, have filed petitions of protest and official complaints to the United Nations Human Rights commissions and to UNESCO, urging the international bodies to intervene.