[News] Coronavirus: As Israel is shut down, authorities continued to destroy Bedouin crops

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 20 11:04:55 EDT 2020


https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-israel-shut-down-authorities-continue-evict-bedouin 



  Coronavirus: As Israel shut down, authorities continued to destroy
  Bedouin crops

By Jack Dodson in Wadi al-Na'am - March 20, 2020
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Israeli authorities destroyed hundreds of hectares of agricultural land 
in two Bedouin communities in the Negev desert this week while most 
other government activities were curtailed to contain the spread of 
coronavirus <https://www.middleeasteye.net/topics/coronavirus>.

As Israelis were banned from meeting in groups of more than 10 and those 
flying in from abroad were quarantined, departments overseeing land use 
in the Negev continued to order evictions and clear land, a move that 
activists say violated the government's own ban against large gatherings.

On Monday morning, Israeli police officers and members of the Green 
Patrol, a paramilitary force within the Israel Land Authority focused on 
enforcement issues in the Negev, showed up at the outskirts of Wadi 
al-Na’am with tractors.

Working from north to south, residents who watched said the officials 
systematically destroyed a large swath of crops, leaving a massive 
expanse of upturned soil where there had been stocks of wheat and 
barley, used to feed their sheep and cows.

“Why do they raze it? Our cattle want to eat, to live,” said Labad Abu 
Afash, a local leader in Wadi al-Na’am. “They want to make it harder for 
us so that they get what they want, to kick us out of the land. That’s 
their goal.”

On Wednesday, authorities went to a second Bedouin village, Tel Arad, 
and destroyed crops there. Multiple large tractors drove over the land 
as residents looked on, recording with their phones.

An official with Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, Yariv Man, told MEE 
by phone that all government activities like demolitions had been 
stopped on Thursday to “help the people of Israel combat corona”.

The decision, he said, was taken after these demolitions had been 
carried out and have since stopped. “Before, they were enforcing the 
laws of building and planning,” Man said.

    'To raze the land at a time when people have nothing to do… It’s
    unbelievable that the government treats its citizens this way'

    /- Labad Abu Afash, local leader in Wadi al-Na’am/

Since declaring independence in 1948, Israel has spent decades evicting 
Bedouin from villages in the Negev desert, arguing that they are living 
illegally on state land in “unrecognised” communities, as Wadi al-Na’am 
and Tel Arad are often described.

Residents, however, argue that they have been on the land long before 
Israel was established, and they want to stay in their ancestral home. 
And while evictions and demolitions happen regularly, they said the 
timing of those this week shocked them.

“This year especially because it coincided with the spread of 
coronavirus, we were shocked and surprised by the government,” Afash said.

“Instead of supporting people, it sends tractors. To raze the land at a 
time when people have nothing to do… It’s unbelievable that the 
government treats its citizens this way.”


      Skeleton operations

As the week went on, Israel’s government instituted increasingly tough 
restrictions on gatherings and movement in an effort to contain the 
coronavirus outbreak.

On 9 March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had issued a mandatory 
two-week quarantine for anyone flying into Israel from abroad. By 15 
March, the day before authorities arrived at Wadi Na’am, the government 
had banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

Then, on 16 March, Netanyahu had advanced a controversial plan to allow 
Israeli intelligence officials to track the cell phone location data of 
confirmed coronavirus patients to see where they had been. That 
information would be used to alert other Israelis who may have 
contracted the virus.

However, the fate of that plan has been thrown into question after the 
country’s top court issued an injunction on Thursday requiring the 
government to provide some oversight to the Knesset.

Meanwhile, basic government services were cut back throughout the 
region, running bare-bones operations and dramatically limiting their work.

Yet the departments overseeing land use in the Negev desert continued 
on, something that surprised Yeela Raanan, a professor of public policy 
at Sapir Academic College in Ashkelon.

    'I was sure when this coronavirus started that at least the
    Bedouin could have a breath of fresh air'

    /- Yeela Raanan, Sapir Academic College/

“I was sure when this coronavirus started that at least the 
Bedouin could have a breath of fresh air,” she said. “That at least 
during these times, our government would not organise to destroy houses 
and crops.”

Raanan said that the government’s action could have dire consequences 
for the Bedouin, who need the crops to feed their animals.

“We’re living in desert, so that means there’s always a very small 
crop,” she said. “And then the government - if the crop is worth 
anything - they’ll come with their tractors just about when it’s time to 
to reap these crops, and they will turn the land over again, destroying 
the crops totally.”


      Ratcheting up pressure

Bedouin towns are scattered across the Negev, each lacking basic 
services such as roads, access to water and functioning addresses.

For decades, the government has been trying to “regularise” the status 
of these communities by moving them, activities that have increased 
under a more rightwing government over the past five years, Raanan said.

    'We will stay on our lands until we get all of our rights from this
    oppressive institution'

    /- Me'eqel Al Hawashla, Council of Unrecognised Villages member/

According to a Ministry of Foreign Affairspublication aimed at 
explaining Israel 
<https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/AboutIsrael/Spotlight/Pages/The-Bedouin-in-Israel.aspx> 
to tourists, the purpose is to help the Bedouin reach a higher 
socio-economic status.

But for residents who watched the state destroy their livelihoods this 
week, that claim rings false.

“We are farmers, and we want to continue growing crops,” said Me'eqel Al 
Hawashla, a member of the Council of Unrecognised Villages who had 
visited both areas this week. His group is a non-governmental body 
because the state doesn’t acknowledge their claim to the land or their 
role as community representatives.

“The state is trying to pressure us,” Hawashla said. “They want to have 
the biggest population they can over the smallest piece of land. And 
this is impossible. We seek to protect our way of life the same way our 
ancestors lived.”

He added: “We will stay on our lands until we get all of our rights from 
this oppressive institution.”

Government officials have advanced plans in recent years to transfer 
residents of these communities to larger cities, where they’ll be placed 
in temporary housing. Bedouin from unrecognised areas resist these 
efforts, arguing these moves would destroy their way of life and force 
them further into poverty.

“All of these pressures are to make people go away, but we’re not going 
to go away,” Labad Abu Afash said. “We ask that they recognise Wadi Na’am.”

-- 
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