[News] Unrecognized in the Negev
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
by SILVIA BOARINI
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.
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
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'
visual anthropologist Linda Paganelli <http://lindapaganelli.me/> and
SMK videofactory <http://smkvideofactory.com/>./
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