Saturday, December 16, 2017

The recurring demolition of Al Araqib: an example for dispossessed Bedouin villages to come


By Rhiannon F. - November 30, 2017
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [al-Araqib] [demolition] [Naqab]

Just north of Be’er Sheva, at an nondescript break in the road safety barrier near Lehavim junction, a dirt road leads to a cluster of temporary structures, centered by a graveyard. The land is dry, sparsely dotted with trees, with extensive views over the Negev Desert. The Bedouin community of Al Araqib has called this home since 1914.

Al Araqib has become a prime example of the Israeli authorities' actions and policies to eradicate Palestinians from their land. After pouring Arabic coffee as a welcome, sitting on mattresses and pillows in a modest tent, Azez Al Tori explains there were 573 people living in Al Araqib before Israeli forces demolished their community for the first time in July 2010. Late last month marked the 120th time Al Araqib was demolished, despite a seven-year legal battle.

Now, only 22 families remain in Al Araqib, totalling 84 people, as some leave for a more secure place to live. As global news regarding Palestine continues to announce Bedouin communities being issued eviction notices from their lands, the story of Al Araqib remains a prime example of Israeli policies and, possibly, a glimpse of the future for those yet to be demolished across the West Bank and Israel.

Most recently, the Bedouin communities of Ein al-Hiweh and Umm Jamal in the Jordan Valley, home to around 129 residents, were issued eviction notices by Israeli authorities, demanding they move from the area within eight days. Even more prominent in the news is the resurfacing of the E1 plan for the expansion of the Maale Adumim settlement East of Jerusalem. Jabal al-Baba, home to 300 Bedouins, will be evicted and demolished to make way for the growing settlement, illegal under international law.

Considering the occupation and illegal expansion of settlements in Palestine has now been operating for 50 years, the international community appears to write these new developments off and rehash the same story over and over again. The demolitions and eviction orders just become numbers, and then people forget it’s a grave human rights violation.

Horses are the only animals Araqib can keep now, they run when Israeli forces come, then return when they have left.

Al Araqib is located within Israel proper. The residents hold Israeli ID cards, though their village structures are deemed illegal in the eyes of Israeli authorities and they are not authorized to build on land owned by their grand grand grandparents. “They look at us like animals, not citizens,” 43-year-old Azez Al Tori expressed over a family sized platter of Maqluba, prepared by his wife Sabah. “If I was a Jew I would be seen as developing the Negev, but I am Arab.”

Al Tori was born in Al Araqib in 1974. “I planted trees by my hands here. By ourselves we made the area beautiful and now I’m an invader?” he said.

The Israeli government deems the Bedouin-built structures illegal, which also means they are denied services such as electricity and water. “We made the roads, we made electricity with a big generator and we have a big water tank. We continued our life,” Al Tori said defiantly.

The last time Israeli forces came to demolish Al Araqib was October 25 at 7.25am. “All of the time they try to make us more and more angry, they want us to be criminal. I know if I take one stone they will arrest me for years. All I can do is raise my arms and say 'if you want to destroy, you destroy.’ They always speak to us with guns pointed at us.”

The village is quiet today, most children are at school in the neighbouring Arab village of Rahat, the same town Israel tries to force the residents of Al Araqib to move to, Al Tori says. As well as this, a lot of the adults are working in surrounding towns; a necessity after the production of olive oil was taken from Araqib in some of the first demolitions of 2010. “We used to have 4,500 olive trees, as well as figs, grapes, date and orange trees. Every family had a garden,” Al Tori said.

Al Tori said that in the past they were more afraid of the demolitions, though now they are prepared. Even so, with demolitions coming more frequently, sometimes twice in the month, his family wake up every morning and say 'maybe it will be today.’ In 2014, Al Tori remembers, the Israeli forces confiscated all of their belongings.

“They took my clothes and my books, our cars and our kitchen. We had to pay 23,000 ISL to get mine and my fathers car back,” Al Tori explains while showing a video of his car being towed away. Now, the community is permanently prepared for the police coming. One family has converted a car into a sleeping space and another car into a kitchen, with space to store all their belongings. “When the forces enter Araqib they start the car and drive away.”

A quick escape vehicle to save belongings.

While international media most often report each time the demolitions strike another tally, the stories seem to be repeated from the last time. Many outlets still report the community is subject to sleeping in the village cemetery after their homes are demolished. In contradiction, Al Tori explained one of their homes takes seven to ten hours to rebuild.

The residents of Al Araqib were told by their lawyers they should not rebuild with their own hands. “Once when they demolished our homes, after three or four hours, I came with a group and started to rebuild my house. The police ambushed us and arrested us.” Al Tori slept in jail that night. Now, an organisation called Negev Coexist helps them rebuild directly after demolition. “It’s so hard and so crazy that they build my house and I can’t help, I only look.”

The village cemetery is key to the Al Araqib story; it was the first structure built in the village and the only area left alone by Israeli forces, besides the fence they pulled down. The cemetery serves as an anchor for the community. “What people could sell or give up their mothers grave? Here is my grandfather, he grew up here and his grave is here. How can I delete my grandfathers' history?” he explained, pointing to one of the oldest graves in the plot.

Al Tori said he would be in court three days the following week, fighting three different cases each with different lawyers. He doesn’t see this battle ending time soon. “It will take a long time, maybe ten years.”

He knows for certain though he will never give up his land. “Anything anyone takes by power, is still yours until you agree and you sign it away. The real ID card, it’s the land,” Al Tori motions to his useless Israeli ID. “If I moved from this area I’m afraid I would die. I would feel like a man without a hand or leg. All the time when I’m travelling in another area, in my mind and in my heart, I think of this land, Araqib,” Al Tori ended emotionally.

The village's graveyard is the only structure to have remained intact.
 

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