The Palestine Brief: Demolitions in Negev and the forgotten plight of Palestinian Bedouins

The Palestine Brief: Demolitions in Negev and the forgotten plight of Palestinian Bedouins
This installment of the Palestine Brief tackles the ongoing Nakba visited on the Palestinian Bedouin population living inside Israel, who are demonised and painted as savages.
5 min read
12 August, 2019
Palestinian Bedouins have for generations suffered state-sponsored displacement [Getty]
Last week, for the 149th time in a row, Israel demolished the Palestinian Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Negev desert.

Police raided the village and broke the tin homes belonging to the Bedouins. Tin construction material was confiscated to make it harder for them to rebuild their homes, leaving them homeless in temperatures that could reach 40 degrees Celsius this time of the year.

Israeli home demolitions are well publicised. Solidarity campaigns routinely brief the public opinion about them. But often, the focus is on home demolitions in the occupied Palestinian territories, which have been stepped up dramatically this year as Israel prepares to annex the rest of the West Bank.

Israel demolishing homes of Palestinians living inside Israel, however, is not as well known.

Read more: Palestinians have few options left as Israel steps up home demolitions in occupied East Jerusalem

Colonial legacy

The Israeli treatment of the Bedouins continues a legacy laid down during the time of the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate.

In 1858, the Ottoman Empire issued a new land law in which provinces were compelled to register their land with a view to increase tax revenues.

At the time, Bedouins, who were perceived a nuisance by the Ottomans because of their refusal to submit to Turkish authority, declined to sign up to the land law. In addition to having to pay taxes on their land, registering would have also meant an obligation to serve in the empire's army – something the Bedouin tribes did not want to do.

The Bedouins, many of whom could not read or write, preferred a traditional pre-Ottoman system of land ownership based on a verbal social code.

Israel now exploits the lack of Ottoman paperwork as an excuse to claim the Bedouin's lands in the desert belong to no-one. Bedouins who have lived on the same land for centuries are being consistently evicted with their homes demolished.

Al-Araqib "is an old village that Israel already evicted in the early 1950s, promising its people that they would be allowed to return but did not keep its promise. The people returned but were declared illegal residents on their own land”, historian Illan Pappe told The New Arab.

Whilst home demolitions are commonly condemned in the occupied West Bank, the demolitions in the Negev desert run through a different context.

"The problem is, unlike the West Bank where Israel operates in violation of an international framework to say it is against international law for an occupier to demolish the house of an occupied, Israeli demolitions of Bedouin communities in Negev are embedded within the state's law”, Myssana Morany, attorney for rights group Adalah told The New Arab.

She explained that during the Nakba, the 1948 war that triggered Israel's creation, the Negev's Bedouin population was reduced by 90 percent by Israel conducting massacres and destruction property and livelihood.

Ironically, pre-Nakba, when Zionist settlers entered the Negev desert, they attempted to buy the land from the Palestinian Bedouins – effectively recognising the Bedouin ownership of the land.

Despite this, Palestinians continue fighting legal battles to live on their own land.

"In 1992, Israel asked Bedouins to prove that they were legal owners of the land and they had to go to courts to show that and failed", Illian explained.

Today, Palestinian Bedouins remain unrecognised by the Israeli state and their communities shut out from the rest of society. There is a legal framework to take the state to court to win back their land, but justice is rarely served.

"If their homes aren't being demolished, they are being deprived of state provisions, in a gross denial of human rights," Myssana said.

"Bedouin Palestinians are cut off from basic water, electricity and healthcare supplies. Schools, nurseries and hospitals aren't provided to them by the state, perpetuating the abysmal conditions which they continue to live in”, she added.

Ongoing Nakba

In truth, many academics and activists argue the demolition of Bedouin villages like al-Araqib are a continuation of the Nakba.

Destroying al-Araqib "is a glaring example of the ongoing Nakba Israel inflicts on Palestinians, whether they are supposedly full citizens or subjects under military occupation", Rachel Beitarie, director of Zochrot – an Israeli non-governmental organisation that spreads Nakba awareness, told The New Arab.

"In the Negev demolitions one can trace many familiar practices that were first introduced in 1948 or in the aftermath of the war and expulsion. For example: the Jewish National Fund planted a forest on al-Araqib's lands, as was done in many of the depopulated Palestinian villages in the early 1950s," she added.

For Rachel, the demolitions of al-Araqib isn't something that is happening alone, or even in the context of the plight of Bedouin Palestinians – it's yet another attack on Palestinian right to their land.

"Al-Araqib is also an inspiring example of Palestinian determination to return or to hold on to their land in the face of brutal state power," she said.

This, she argued, should be seen in the context of the Tel Aviv government trying to prevent the Palestinian right to return, as "recently revealed documents show that this was done as a matter of policy, to prevent return". 

While the plight of Palestinian Bedouins has existed before Israel's creation under previous colonial powers, it does not mean Israel does not hold responsibility for the current state in which Bedouins live.

The denial of their land and rights, many argue, is part and parcel of the incremental ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

According to Myssana, within Israel, Bedouins have been dehumanised as an illegal settler population and have been animalised as savages that need to be saved from their own ignorance.

The Israeli public's lack of empathy, along with the oppression of Bedouins being ingrained in the Israeli judiciary means plight of Palestinian Bedouins will continue as a part of Israel's systematic eradication of Palestinians from their own land.

Diana Alghoul is a journalist at The New Arab.

Follow her on Twitter: @SuperKnafeh

The Palestine Brief is a new regular feature at The New Arab.

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