Tag Archives: al-arakib

In The Wasteland of Democracy, Israel Destroys Al-Arakib…Again

“The Negev affords me the pleasure of watching a wasteland develop into the most fruitful portion of Israel by a totally Jewish act of creation.” –David Ben Gurion, Memoirs

In the middle of the night on August 10, residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Arakib sent a panicked text message to Israeli activists in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israeli police helicopters were buzzing overhead, surveying the scene ahead of what was likely to be a new round of demolitions. Three activists staying in the village had been nabbed during a night raid. Having already witnessed the razing of their homes twice in the past two weeks, the residents of Al-Arakib expected the third round of demolitions to arrive tonight, on the eve of Ramadan. During Ramadan, when the villagers fasted all day, the police and Israeli Land Adminstration reasoned they would be too weakened to rebuild — it was prime time for destruction.

I arrived in Al-Arakib at 3 AM with a handful of Jerusalem-based activists. A local couple hauled out mattresses and blankets and poured us small cups of coffee. “I’ve had enough of sleeping,” the man grumbled as he reclined next to his wife. He seemed grateful to have company. I laid down and stared at the desert sky, listening to the man describe in a lulled tone the experience of watching his neighbors’ homes crumple under the teeth of bulldozers again and again. As he trailed off, I heard a low droning sound in the distance. Were they here already? I looked around at the others. No one to register the slightest sign of concern. Finally, I slipped into a light slumber.

Two hours later I was torn from my sleep. “They’re here!” someone shouted in Hebrew. I leapt from my mattress and scrambled up a dune until I reached the center of the village. A phalanx of one hundred riot cops had assembled in a tight formation. They were bristling with assault weapons and centurion shields. Flanked by bulldozers, the police quickly ringed the activists and journalists, who numbered about two dozen, and began forcibly pushing them away from the site of the demolitions. Their intention seemed to be to prevent any brave souls from standing between the bulldozers and the homes they sought to destroy. Dispatched by a faceless network of clerks and engineers in air-conditioned offices to do the dirty work of the state, the police performed their duty with cold efficiency.

As the bulldozers trundled around the village, tearing tarps from plywood pylons, crushing tin roofs, and dragging the shattered structures into hulking piles, the villagers watched with resignation. Seated on her bed in the naked desert, a girl wiped a few tears from her eyes, grimacing at the sight before her. On a nearby hill, a man quizzed his daughter on surahs from the Quran before sending her to collect mattresses from beneath the dusty waste of what used to be their sleeping quarters. An old woman stood impassively by a flock of birds perched on the collapsed remains of her house. Dispossession and homelessness have become nearly mundane in Al-Arakib.

The villagers remain devoted to the nomadic Bedouin tradition. (Why else would they resist with such tenacity the Israeli government’s plan to resettle them in one of the Indian reservation-style “development communities” the state has created for them?) However, they have established a permanent presence in the areas around their village that pre-dates the foundation of Israel. Al-Arakib’s cemetery, for example, contains the graves dating back to the end of the 19th century. Yet the Bedouins’ historical claim to the Negev has not convinced the state that they deserve legal recognition. Nor have their attempts to demonstrate their loyalty by serving as front-line combat soldiers in the Israeli Army. In the eyes of the state, the Arabs of the Negev are at best quasi-human.

In 1953, the first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben Gurion (original name: David Gryn) moved to Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the Negev. A self-described messianist who rejected the existence of God while simultaneously describing the Torah as his political guidebook, Ben Gurion saw the Negev as a blank slate for realizing his revolutionary fever dreams. In his memoirs, he fantasized about evacuating Tel Aviv and settling five million Jews in small settlements throughout the Negev. Just as he disdained the cosmopolitan spirit of Tel Aviv’s urbanists, Ben Gurion was disgusted by the sight of the open desert, describing it as “a criminal waste.” In the place of sand dunes, he imagined a Jewish replica of Northern Europe.

“When I look out of my window and see a tree standing [in the Negev],” Ben Gurion wrote, “that tree gives me a greater sense of beauty and personal delight than all the vast forests I have seen in Switzerland or Scandinavia… Not only because I helped to grow them but because they constitute a gift of man to Nature, and a gift of the Jews to the cradle of their culture.”

With the ethnocentric Ashkenazi outlook of Labor Zionism, Ben Gurion held deep contempt for non-European cultures. He denigrated the Jews who had immigrated to Israel from Arab countries as “savage” and as “a primitive community” that reveres pimps and thieves. But he at least acknowledged their existence in Israeli society. In his writings about the Negev, Ben Gurion did not once mention the presence of the tens of thousands of Arab Beduoins whose villages abutted his kibbutz. To him, their culture was void; they lived in a “wasteland.” They were obstacles to his utopian vision, not human beings.

Today the Israeli government remains committed to fulfilling Ben Gurion’s fantasies even though the Israeli public has completely turned its back on the Negev. “It seems that the fantasies grow stronger especially when the Jews do not move to live in the desert,” the Israeli blogger Eyal Niv wrote. “The more the Jews back away from the desert, the more their leaders toughen the force, frequency, and cruelty of the expulsion of its other residents.”

In the areas in and around Al-Arakib, just 5 km north of the city of Beersheva, the Jewish National Fund is in the process of planting the “Ambassador Forest.” The forest will cover the land inhabited for over 100 years by the residents of Al-Arakib and prevent them from ever returning. The “Blueprint Negev” plan of the Jewish National Fund, an organization that claims to be acting “on behalf of Jewish people everywhere,” can only be realized through harsh military force, the razing of villages, and ultimately, ethnic cleansing. The meting out of these practices against citizens of Israel should raise serious questions about the country’s claim to uphold democratic values.

After the Israeli Police completed their third demolition of Al-Arakib, the villagers collected the remains of their homes and, with the assistance of a few international and Jewish Israeli activists, began rebuilding again. Without any recourse from the state or its courts, they have no other option but to start over from scratch. And they have nowhere else to go.

A Tale Of Two Summer Camps And One Dark Future

Underprivileged Israeli teens signed up for the "summer camp of destruction"

Underprivileged Israeli teens signed up for the "summer camp of destruction"

On July 31, I published a piece about a group of high school age Israelis who helped the Israeli police level the Bedouin Arab village of al-Arakib. Since publishing the story, “The Summer Camp of Destruction,” I have received unconfirmed accounts from witnesses that the youth volunteers sang “Am Yisrael Chai,” while police bulldozers destroyed homes. Nothing is unbelievable at this point.

Based on the impressions of a friend who counsels members of the IDF and Border Police on coping with human rights violations they committed, I identified the youth volunteers as members of the Israeli police civil guard. However, their vests read “Reshet Biatachon. According to the Tarabut blog, which is published in Hebrew, the teens were working for a security outsourcing firm for minimum wage. This fact makes the story no less disturbing.

The background of the youth is perhaps more significant than the identity of the entity they were working for. Most appeared to be Mizrahi (Jews of Arab descent), while the rest appeared Ethiopian, and Russian. These are, of course, the three most marginalized, victimized groups within Jewish Israeli society, and are therefore the most inclined to prove their loyalty as front line soldiers in Border Police units battling the only caste lower than them: the Arabs.

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The “Summer Camp Of Destruction:” Israeli High Schoolers Assist The Razing Of A Bedouin Town

AL-ARAKIB, ISRAEL — On July 26, Israeli police demolished 45 buildings in the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Arakib, razing the entire village to the ground to make way for a Jewish National Fund forest. The destruction was part of a larger project to force the Bedouin community of the Negev away from their ancestral lands and into seven Indian reservation-style communities the Israeli government has constructed for them. The land will then be open for Jewish settlers, including young couples in the army and those who may someday be evacuated from the West Bank after a peace treaty is signed. For now, the Israeli government intends to uproot as many villages as possible and erase them from the map by establishing “facts on the ground” in the form of JNF forests. (See video of of al-Arakib’s demolition here).

“]Israeli high school age police volunteers lounge on furniture taken from an al-Arakib family's home. All photos by Ata Abu Madyam of Arab Negev News.

Moments before the destruction of the Bedouin village of al-Arakib, Israeli high school age police volunteers lounge on furniture taken from a family's home. [The following four photos are by Ata Abu Madyam of Arab Negev News.

One of the most troubling aspects of the destruction of al-Arakib was a report by CNN that the hundreds of Israeli riot police who stormed the village were accompanied by “busloads of cheering civilians.” Who were these civilians and why didn’t CNN or any outlet investigate further?

I traveled to al-Arakib yesterday with a delegation from Ta’ayush, an Israeli group that promotes a joint Arab-Jewish struggle against the occupation. The activists spent the day preparing games and activities for the village’s traumatized children, helping the villagers replace their uprooted olive groves, and assisting in the reconstruction of their demolished homes. In a massive makeshift tent where many of al-Arakib’s residents now sleep, I interviewed village leaders about the identity of the cheering civilians. Each one confirmed the presence of the civilians, describing how they celebrated the demolitions. As I compiled details, the story grew increasingly horrific. After interviewing more than a half dozen elders of the village, I was able to finally identify the civilians in question. What I discovered was more disturbing than I had imagined.

Israeli police volunteers go through the belongings an al-Arakib family

Israeli police youth volunteers pick through the belongings an al-Arakib family

Arab Negev News publisher Ata Abu Madyam supplied me with a series of photos he took of the civilians in action. They depicted Israeli high school students who appeared to have volunteered as members of the Israeli police civilian guard (I am working on identifying some participants by name). Prior to the demolitions, the student volunteers were sent into the villagers’ homes to extract their furniture and belongings. A number of villagers including Abu Madyam told me the volunteers smashed windows and mirrors in their homes and defaced family photographs with crude drawings. Then they lounged around on the furniture of al-Arakib residents in plain site of the owners. Finally, according to Abu Matyam, the volunteers celebrated while bulldozers destroyed the homes.

“What we learned from the summer camp of destruction,” Abu Madyam remarked, “is that Israeli youth are not being educated on democracy, they are being raised on racism.” (The cover of the latest issue of Madyam’s Arab Negev News features a photo of Palestinians being expelled to Jordan in 1948 juxtaposed with a photo of a family fleeing al-Arakib last week. The headline reads, “Nakba 2010.”)

According to residents of al-Arakib, the youth volunteers vandalized village homes

According to residents of al-Arakib, the youth volunteers vandalized homes throughout the village

The Israeli civilian guard, which incorporates 70,000 citizens including youth as young as 15 (about 15% of Israeli police volunteers are teenagers), is one of many programs designed to incorporate Israeli children into the state’s military apparatus. It is not hard to imagine what lessons the high school students who participated in the leveling of al-Arakib took from their experience, nor is it especially difficult to predict what sort of citizens they will become once they reach adulthood. Not only are they being indoctrinated to swear blind allegiance to the military, they are learning to treat the Arab outclass as less than human. The volunteers’ behavior toward Bedouins, who are citizens of Israel and serve loyally in Israeli army combat units despite widespread racism, was strikingly reminiscent of the behavior of settler youth in Hebron who pelt Palestinian shopkeepers in the old city with eggs, rocks and human waste. If there is a distinction between the two cases, it is that the Hebron settlers act as vigilantes while the teenagers of Israeli civilian guard vandalize Arab property as agents of the state.

The spectacle of Israeli youth helping destroy al-Arakib helps explain why 56% of Jewish Israeli high school students do not believe Arabs should be allowed to serve in the Knesset – why the next generation wants apartheid. Indeed, the widespread indoctrination of Israeli youth by the military apparatus is a central factor in Israel’s authoritarian trend. It would be difficult for any adolescent boy to escape from an experience like al-Arakib, where adults in heroic warrior garb encourage him to participate in and gloat over acts of massive destruction, with even a trace of democratic values.

Youth volunteers extract belongings from village homes as bulldozers move in

Youth volunteers extract belongings from village homes as bulldozers move in

As for the present condition of Israeli democracy, it is essential to consider the way in which the state pits its own citizens against one another, enlisting the Jewish majority as conquerers while targeting the Arab others as, in the words of Zionist founding father Chaim Weizmann, “obstacles that had to be cleared on a difficult path.” Historically, only failing states have encouraged such corrosive dynamics to take hold. That is why the scenes from al-Arakib, from the demolished homes to the uprooted gardens to the grinning teens who joined the mayhem, can be viewed as much more than the destruction of a village. They are snapshots of the phenomenon that is laying Israeli society as a whole to waste.

After the youth clear out the homes, the police move in...

...and the destruction begins

...and the destruction begins