Al Arakib and the Splendor of Endurance

Today is the 32nd day of the Omer, the countdown (or up) between Passover and Shavuot, when the Jewish people received the Torah at Sinai. Each week and day of the Omer has a mystical attribute. This week’s attribute has been “Hod,” or spelndor. Today’s attribute is “Netzach,” or endurance. The was very little that is splendid, at least externally, in the village of Al-Arakib, a Bedouin village in the Negev that has been destroyed by the Israeli Government and the JNF 37 times, and counting, where I spent the last few days. The remaning residents have huddled their tents around the village graveyard; their crops have been decimated and trees belonging to the JNF are literally closing in from all sides. But the sense of endurance pulsing through the remains of the village, as the JNF bulldozers resumed their work yesterday, “creating facts on the ground” by planting trees (once the trees are in, there is little hope for the Bedouins to ever regain the land. “Why don’t you just uproot the trees,” one activist asked, “like the JNF came and uprooted your olive trees and your homes?” Clicks of tongues, shuffled feet, a story of two Bedouin boys from a different village who tried to do just that, and are now serving jail sentences of two and a half years), the sense of endurance there was so deep that perhaps it could be seen as a sort of spledor.

“We won’t leave,” Aziz, one of the last community leaders left in Al-Arakib, “we have no where to go. We stay, or we die, but we are not leaving. They can plants trees on top of our houses, but we are not leaving.”

We were about 50 people over all, 9 Israeli activists and 40 some people from the village, including many children, who marched directly up to the police -probably about 100 police officers were there at one point in the morning- and started singing silly songs at them, taking pictures of them: Endurance. As the JNF bulldozers began to work on what is known as “plot 24,” a plot which the JNF had privately agreed not to work on until the legal issues were fully resolved, we moved up to the police line, quietly, and sat down. No violence, no screaming, some raised voices, some people close to tears, but mostly just sitting: Endurance.

The JNF finished up their work yesterday, and the struggle for Al-Arakib continues. The people of Al-Arakib have called on others to join them, in solidarity, to endure with them a small measure of what it means to be too Bedouin, too Arab in the State of Israel in 2012. Some of us activists will return a few more times, some of us will not be able to do, some of us will go many more times, but it is clear that we, as activists, are at most privileged witnesses to the splendid endurance displayed by the people of Al-Arakib.

For a more news-like report on the situation in Al Arakib, here is a post by +972 Magazine’s Mairav Zonszein, to which I contributed reports from the ground.

Monday, May 7 2012|Mairav Zonszein

After having their homes destroyed by the State over 30 times in the last two years, the residents of al-Arakib can do little else but watch as a forest is built on the ruins of their homes.

The Jewish National Fund resumed cultivating land Monday morning in al-Arakib, an unrecognized Beduoin village in southern Israel which the quasi-governmental agency has earmarked for a large forestation project. A week ago, the families in the village got word that the JNF would return and asked for activists to come and support them.

JNF equipment, escorted by heavy police presence, showed up Monday morning and sealed off the entrance to the village.  Families and activists watched from the village cemetery, the only spot that has been deemed untouchable due to its historic and emotional significance. Residents told +972 that JNF representatives gave their word in private conversations a couple of months ago that they would not plant on a specific plot of land  – known as plot 24 –  since it is the subject of an ongoing court case, however this morning they prepared this precise piece of land for cultivation.

Since July 17, 2010, the village has been demolished by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) more times than anyone can count, and each time the families have returned and built it up again to confirm their claim on the land. Despite remaining steadfast in their claims to the land, most families have relocated to neighboring towns like Rahat to avoid the anguish of constant destruction, such that only a handful of residents still live inside al-Arakib.

The ILA claims the Bedouin are trespassing on state land, but the issue is still being fought in court proceedings over land ownership. While the residents do not have official land deeds, they do have documents from the Ottoman era showing their ancestors purchased the land in 1906. The state insists the land was appropriated in 1954 such that court findings regarding ownership before then are irrelevant anyway.

The issue of  Al-Arakib is part of a larger story concerning 35 unrecognized villages inside Israel. According to a 2011 report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, approximately half the Bedouin population in the Negev, about 90,000 people—live in quasi-recognized or unrecognized villages similar to al-Arakib. The government adoption of the Prawer Plan last September  calls for the uprooting of 30,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel and their relocation to established Bedouin towns (with financial compensation), thereby denying the community’s connection to the land and way of life.

Critics of the plan have called it a “declaration of war” on the Bedouin community, since they are being treated like a security threat, and not as citizens with equal rights.

Rabbis for Human Rights activist Moriel Rothman contributed to this report.

For more on Israeli policies regarding the Bedouin population, click here.