Three homes demolished, many lives changed, in Um Ratam

Systematically expelled during and after the 1948 war, and then transferred against their will to the northern part of Beersheba, the indigenous population of the Negev, or Bedouin, face land confiscation, house demolitions, destruction of fields and trees, and an Israeli plan to forcefully displace them again.

About half of the 130,000 Bedouin in the Negev live in seven urban townships planned and built by Israeli government. Those who refuse the state’s relocation plan, live in 45 ‘unrecognized’ villages, where the provision of public services, such as water, electricity and sanitation, access roads and transportation, as well as medical clinics and schools, is absent. The postal and telephone systems do not serve them. There are no dentists, eye doctors, no mental health specialists, and no health education.

Only about 10 villages have health clinics. No high schools have been built in any of the 45 villages. The rest of the Negev is designated as blocs of military zones and conservation parks, and declared off-limits.

The Bedouin have faced a marked increase in home destructions over the past year, with 150 warning notices delivered on July 1 alone. When Refugees International stopped in the unrecognized village of Um Ratam in September 2003, it was learned that three homes had been demolished just days before. A 65-year-old resident, Fadil, explained what had happened.

One of the homes, though unoccupied at the time of demolition, had been built in anticipation of an upcoming marriage ceremony of his nephew. Sitting on top of the small heap of twisted metal and rubble that had until recently been a modest block home with a zinc roof, Fadil told RI that the intended occupant, who works outside the village and returns only once a week to spend time with relatives, has not yet seen the extent of his loss. “Now the young man can’t get engaged,” Fadil said sadly.

The second case of demolition in Um Ratam was that of a family of eight who had lived at that location in the village for four years. Having received notice of the demolition two weeks in advance, the father of six took down his own home, leaving only tiles on the floor for the children to play on, so they wouldn’t have to witness an overwhelming presence of military personnel and the destruction of their house.

Nevertheless, when the officials from the Ministry of the Interior, border police, and marine patrol arrived in the village supported by helicopters overhead, the team prevented anyone from getting near the building while they destroyed the flooring, saying, “We were here before 1948. It’s either us or you.” “The children cried all week,” Fadil told RI.

The third home demolished in Um Ratam had been occupied by one family for 10 years. “No one checked inside for residents first. They just started demolishing it.”