[News] Unrecognized in the Negev

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 15 13:09:34 EDT 2014

May 15, 2014

The Plight of Israel's Bedouin Citizens

  Unrecognized in the Negev


At the break of dawn on 27^th  July 2010, the unrecognized village of Al 
Araqib was surrounded by 1,500 police officers clad in riot gear.

Helicopters circled overhead as bulldozers razed homes and animal pens 
to the ground. It took 4 hours to demolish a village that was home to 
around 300 people, hundreds of sheep, dozens of goose, hens, pigeons and 

*Al Araqib, 2009*

My first visit to Al Araqib was in 2009, a year before that mass 
demolition. I boarded a taxi from Be'er Sheva. The driver had no idea 
where the village was and there were no signs to help us along the way.

Following a phone conversation in Hebrew with my Bedouin host, Aziz Abu 
Madegham Al Turi, the driver followed precise instructions and left me 
/"by the highway shoulder on Route 40 near the phone-mast after Lahavim 

Next to me was an opening in the protective guardrail large enough to 
let a couple of cars through. From there a dirt road straddled into the 

This is also where the documentary I am making with Linda Paganelli and 
SMK Videofactory, '/Unrecognized in the Negev/' 
begins. In Al Araqib.

*68 demolition in less than four years*

Since 27^th  July 2010, the village has been demolished a further 68 
times. Of the original 300 inhabitants only 20 have remained and they 
are confined to the cemetery area.

What is happening in Al Araqib is happening to unrecognized Bedouin 
villages across the Negev and in our documentary we focus on the lives 
of Sheikh Saiah, the charismatic head of the village, and his family, to 
make sense of the wider context.

Sheikh Saiah's principal family members are his son Aziz, his wife Sabah 
and their newly arrived daughter named 'Al Araqib', Salim, who every 
morning prepares the coffee with cardamom, his wife Haqima, their kids 
Mariam, Ibrahim, Mohammed, Hala and all the others.

*Recognition denied*

At the core of the story we are telling is a tension between state and 
minority. The state of Israel does not recognize Al Araqib. The village 
exists in the real world but it does not exist in the reality that the 
state wishes to construct.

That is why there are no signs indicating its whereabouts or why there 
are no paved roads leading to it. It is also the reason why the state 
does not provide any basic services to its people, such as water, 
electricity or sewerage. The Al Araqib I got to know during that first 
visit in 2009 was a thriving community, against all odds.

The first thing I was shown were the fields of growing wheat that the 
state had ploughed into the ground just days before. Aziz, his wife Saba 
and their neighbour Mohammed wondered at the waste.

/"We are Israeli citizens, we are not doing anything bad"/, Aziz said. 
/"We only want to live on our lands in peace. It isn't easy to live like 
this. But at least we are on our land."/

The Al Turi continue to have a clear vision for their village, it may 
not be drawn as a plan that the state can understand but it is a vision 
informed by centuries of desert dwelling.

Before the demolition everything had its place: the /shig/ (communal 
tent), the dirt paths, the homes, the parking spaces, the women's 
sections. It really did take little imagination to see what it could 
become, given a fair chance.

*The Jewish National Fund*

The reason for the mass demolition of the village on 27th July 2010 has 
been closely linked to the forestation activities of the Jewish National 
Fund (JNF) and Israel's Land Administration (ILA).

In the regional master plan approved by authorities, the area is 
allocated to recreational use. Hence the forest. Hence the 
dispossession. As the trees advance, the Bedouin are forced to retreat 
and each day the map designed by the state imposes itself on reality a 
little more.

Hundreds of times Sheikh Sayah has wondered, /"are the trees of the 
state better that they need to uproot ours and plant new ones?"/

The very methodical and planned way in which the JNF chooses where to 
plant and in what quantity, has led the Israeli historian Ilan Pappè to 
call this quasi-state agency /"the principal judaizer of Israel-Palestine"/.

In 'Unrecognized in the Negev' 
<http://igg.me/at/unrecognizedinthenegev> we also look at the dark side 
of something as 'green' and eco-friendly as planting trees by the 
million in the desert.

*The Bedouins and the state*

The idea of centralized power 'willing a place out of existence' plays 
an important part in the documentary. We explore what happens to people 
when they don't fit in the plans of the state to which they nominally 

What happens when the way in which power wants to shape them might 
result into their erasure, that of their community and their history? 
What processes are unleashed? Al Araqib is only one of the villages in 
which these mechanisms are happening, there are many more.

Bedouins are indigenous inhabitants of the Negev, they are Muslim and 
Palestinian and hold Israeli citizenship. Today they number roughly 
220,000. About half of them live in the same conditions as the Al Turi 
tribe, in villages that remain unrecognized. The other half live in 
seven government-planned townships and ten recognized villages.

Since 1948 the policy of the state of Israel has been to settle the 
largest number of Bedouins on the smallest amount of land.

For example, in 1951 the state moved Bedouin tribes into an area called 
the Siyag, then in the 1970s pushed them to settle into seven 
government-planned townships. These efforts are ongoing.

*The Prawer-Begin Plan*

The latest development in this policy is the Prawer-Begin plan, approved 
by the government in 2011. This plan seeks to 'regularize' Bedouin 
settlement within five years. The bill seeks to do this through the use 
of the law, making it gradually illegal for Bedouins to refuse the 
settling of land claims in favour of the state.

There are currently over 3,000 land claims filed by Bedouins in the 
Negev Courts. They have been awaiting a ruling since the 1960s. In these 
legal cases, Bedouins claim ownership over specific areas for which they 
hold deeds and documents that were accepted as valid by both the Ottoman 
Empire and the British Mandate.

Yet since Israel has been passing very specific laws, or applying past 
laws very narrowly, in order to nationalize much of the land in both 
Israel proper and the occupied Palestinian territories, it is very hard 
for Bedouins to win any of these claims.

The Prawer-Begin plan seeks to speed up this process. Once the claims 
are settled and the land cleared, the state will be able to build new 
towns, develop industrial zones, plant more forests, and generally fully 
implement what it calls 'development' plans worth billions of NIS for 
this peripheral region.

These plans, officials argue, will benefit both Jewish and Arab citizens 
of the Negev.

*Unrecognized in the Negev*

These narratives put forward by the state -- of development, 
urbanization and modernity -- and the ideologies supporting them, point 
to a clear path for the Bedouin: from the tent to the house, from the 
field to the factory or the office.

Yet what the Bedouins seem to argue is that A to B should not be the 
only path available and there is nothing 'natural' about it.

So far 'development' of the Negev for the Al Turi has meant loss of 
land, loss of job, stress, violence, arrests and clashes with the 

All the while Jewish communities have thrived and in some cases, as for 
example in Umm-al-Hieran, are due to take the place currently occupied 
by Bedouin localities. This inequality in access to and distribution of 
resources is highlighted throughout our documentary.

And as we explore this inequality we also understand what it means to be 
a Bedouin in Israel today -- and whether Israel can make room for this 
Arab minority since, as Aziz puts it:

/"They can demolish us 100 times, but we are not going anywhere."/

/*Silvia Boarini* is a freelance photographer and journalist currently 
based in Be'er Sheva. She is a graduate of SOAS and some of her work is 
available on her website <http://silviaboarini.com/>. //She is currently 
working on the documentary 'Unrecognized in the Negev' 
<https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/unrecognized-in-the-negev> with 
visual anthropologist Linda Paganelli <http://lindapaganelli.me/> and 
SMK videofactory <http://smkvideofactory.com/>./

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863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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