In September 1948, a Zionist army truck forcibly rounded up 14 Palestinian Bedouin farmers near al-Araqib in the Naqab (Negev), drove them to an abandoned home, and then shot them at point blank range.
Since 15 July this year, Israeli border and riot police have arrested more than forty Palestinians, mostly youth, in Bir al-Saba (Beersheba), Sakhnin, Kfar Kanna and Wadi Ara during protests against the so-called Prawer Plan that will forcibly displace up to 40,000 Bedouin.
Although 65 years separate both events, what motivated them remains the same. This is why the Prawer Plan has been called a “second” Nakba, as its intentions are similar to the Palestinian catastrophe of 1947-49 that saw the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians.
However, to call it a “second” Nakba is inaccurate.
Since the State of Israel was founded, its government has constantly focused on displacing and dispossessing Palestinians in order to free the land for continued Zionist settlement and expansion. The Prawer Plan is not a renewal of an old catastrophe: it is characteristic of ongoing colonialism. This means that the Nakba is a continuing phenomenon rather than limited to a certain time period.
Local residents say the al-Araqib massacre of 1948 was motivated by the desire to instill fear and prompt their flight.
The expulsion of Palestinians was a planned policy, as documented by the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
The ethnic cleansing operations in the Naqab began in July 1948 and resulted in 90 percent of the original population remaining outside what became Israel.
According to eyewitness testimony, in September 1948, an Israeli army leader notorious for regularly harassing Palestinian Bedouin, and known by the psuedonym Moshe al-Khawaja, patrolled the area around al-Araqib with a band of other armed Zionists.
They forced 14 young and middle-aged Bedouin men who were working their fields onto a truck, and transported them to the recently-abandoned home of the refugee Odeh al-Qawasemeh.
There, the Bedouin men were summarily executed and their bodies were dumped inside this bayekah, a house made from mud and stone.
The al-Araqib massacre was written about in the local Naqab-based Arabic press by Saqr Abu Sa’alouq and in Ibrahim Abu Jaber’s 2004 Encyclopedia of Nakba Injury. Most testimonies of the massacre that have been published were eyewitness accounts.
In April 2011, I met with eyewitness Mohammed (Abu Shahd) Abu Jabr, an 83-year-old man living in Rahat, a government-planned township. At the time of the massacre he was a youth, and lived half a kilometer from Odeh al-Qawasemeh. He participated in the burials.
In December 2011, I met with eyewitness Ibrahim Hussein Abu al-Tayyif, whose father was killed. On a number of occasions, throughout the same year, I met with Nuri al-Oqbi, who although was not an eyewitness, was a young boy living in al-Araqib at the time.
Eyewitness Mubarak Mohammed al-Turi watched the massacre unfold from a distance, from the area of al-Fukhari. He said he saw how the army held each victim with his hands apart while a crew member then shot each person — at point blank range — at the door of the house. The bodies were then flung inside.
Eyewitness Ali Shariqi al-Turi, who carried the dead bodies on camel-back to their burial, testified that bullets were concentrated in the head, neck and chest of the victims. The heavy rain meant that some burials took place on the second day. The Zionist forces are also reported to have killed livestock in the same area.
Those killed in the massacre was a member from the Abu Solb family, Abu Rgeig, brothers Jaddou Hassan Abu Shbeith and Ali Hassan Abu Shbeith, Rizq Abu Zbeideh, Salem Mubarak al-Greineh, al-Asmar Salem Abu Hameiseh, the brothers Qadr and Salem abu al-Husus, Hussein Mahmood Abu al-Tayyif, Khalil Mustafa Abu Zayd al-Turi, Khalil Mohammed al-Malahi, Sliman Jibril Abu Jaber and Mohammed al-Qawasemeh. The identity of the fourteenth victim is unknown. The complete list is from Mohammed (Abu Shahd) Abu Jabr in Rahat, as well as from the two original accounts in Arabic from Abu Sa’alouq and Abu Jaber’s research.
The victims were from several different Bedouin tribes, including the Abu Jgeem, Abu Labbeh, al-Oqbi and al-Huzzayyel tribes.
Two particular military decisions shed light on how the event unfolded. The first was an official move to target farmers with specific orders to use firepower to prevent Palestinians from harvesting, collecting crops or picking olives.
Secondly, in late September 1948, the 51st and 53rd battalions of another Zionist militia, the Yiftach, were ordered to ethnically cleanse the area northwest of Route 40 (the principal artery leading into the Naqab), until the boundary with Gaza, of “unfriendly” Bedouin tribes. Al-Araqib was directly in the crosshairs.
Following the 1948 massacre, many families fled out of fear. The remaining residents were driven off their land in 1951 upon military government order that the land be used for military training purposes.
Israel then expropriated the land under the Land Acquisition Law of 1953. While a few families continued to live and farm in al-Araqib with the permission of the military, most of the families settled in Rahat, the largest Bedouin “development town” in present-day Israel.
Sleeping in cemetery
In the mid 1990s, a number of families returned to their lands in al-Araqib and began farming there. In 2002, Israel responded by demolishing homes and spraying the agricultural land with Roundup, a herbicide manufactured by the US corporation Monsanto.
On 27 July 2010, the entire village was demolished, displacing 300 community members. Since then, the village has been levelled more than fifty times. The handful of families that remain in al-Araqib sleep in the cemetery, believing “the dead will protect the living.”
Today, the Prawer Plan seeks to clarify Palestinian Bedouin land ownership in the Naqab.
Israel depicts the initiative as “beneficial” for Bedouin economic and social development. In truth, it will destroy three dozen villages, and sever the historical ties of the community to their land.
The displaced communities will then be forced to live in overcrowded and underfunded “development towns.” The plan stipulates that Bedouin land west of Route 40 will not be considered in the arrangement, having the same effect as the 1948 order to ethnically cleanse Bedouin northwest of Route 40.
The Prawer Plan treats the deep Palestinian roots in the Naqab as irrelevant. Pre-1948 Bedouin proofs of ownership and possession of land such as bills of sale, leasing agreements and tax records are inadmissible as evidence.
Palestinian history is being also denied. Most Israeli history books do not recognize events such as the al-Araqib massacre. This whittling away of Palestinian history has been referred to as “memoricide” by Pappé.
The Israeli archives deliberately hide knowledge of Nakba-era massacres on security grounds; historians estimate there to be at least a hundered smaller massacres besides the ten major ones, such as Deir Yassin, familiar to those who have studied Palestinian history.
Whenever community activists have argued that the Nakba is ongoing, the Israeli authorities have responded with violence.
One of the first persons from whom I learned about the al-Araqib massacre was a spokesperson for the village, Dr. Awad Abu Freih. He has been accused by the police of inciting murder and terrorism. He is regularly brought in for questioning by the police.
“They use all means to get their way … from sexual assault blackmail, financial blackmail, blackmail on your life, blackmail related to your kids, your future,” he said.
On 15 July, during the protest against the Prawer Plan in Sakhnin, social activist and lawyer Fathiyya Hussein and her two children, one a minor, were violently arrested by the police (“Israel: Excessive force against protesters,” Human Rights Watch, 18 July 2013).
After beating Fathiyya’s elder son Mohannad, the police dragged his limp body across the intersection and loaded him onto a police vehicle. Fathiyya herself was arrested when she approached four police officers who were physically assaulting her underage son. The police arrested her by force. “Now let’s break her hand, give me your hand so we can break it,” they said.
At the station, the police severely beat a detainee, leaving him with a swollen eye, having mistaken him for her son, Mohannad. Fathiyya believes her son was specifically targeted because of his father’s political work as general secretary of the Balad political party, which represents Palestinian citizens of Israel. What stood out for her throughout her detention was the hate and brutality in the police’s physical and verbal abuse.
Youth activist Khaled Anabtawi notes how the community’s attempt to shut down streets and halt traffic in anti-Prawer protests is of particular concern to the authorities. Village spokesperson Abu Freih has also said that the security forces began to harass him only after a protest scheduled for al-Araqib resulted in jamming Route 40.
When the Palestinian community shuts down a major road it disrupts the flow of regular Israeli life, including the state’s ability to move its military and police. Further, it brings a previously unknown issue to the public consciousness, one inexorably linked to the Nakba and this threatens to reverse the memoricide that ongoing colonialism works hard to realize.
Fathiyya Hussein has asked, “How else to explain the police inaction to when Tel Aviv’s Ayalon [freeway] was shut down by protesters of the [predominantly Jewish] social justice movement only a day earlier?”
The violence of Israeli “security” forces in recent years bears many similarities to those of Moshe al-Khawaja’s rag-tag crew of marauders in the 1940s.
The Nakba, then, is not about the past. It is a catastrophe that has never stopped.
Nasser Rego is a doctoral candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. He is studying how Palestinians from the Naqab are treated by the Israeli legal system. He has written a detailed account of the 1948 al-Araqib massacre published in Holy Land Studies, “Israel, 1948 and Memoricide: The 1948 Al-Araqib/Negev Massacre and its Legacy.”