Update/correction: A miscommunication with Jill Kestler-D’Amours, who interviewed Samia Al-Touri in Arabic with me present, resulted in my misquoting Al-Touri. Because I thought Kestler-D’Amours was summarizing Al-Touri’s comments, I attributed them to him. In fact, she was speaking for herself in reference to his comments. So I have corrected the post and updated with Al-Touri’s remarks.
I spent a part of this afternoon in the green room of a Russian news bureau in Jerusalem. While waiting for my friend Joseph Dana to appear on Russia TV to discuss the Palestine Papers, I looked out the window at a panoramic view of Jerusalem. In the foreground was the Mamilla cemetery, once the home to the graves of prominent Palestinian families like the Khalidis, and now the desecrated future site of the Simon Wiesenthal Foudation’s ironically named “Center for Human Dignity,” which was approved by the Jerusalem municipality.
Now Joseph was on. “What the papers provide us with is the ultimate confirmation that Israel is not a viable partner for peace and does not support an equitable two state solution,” he said. “Israel is content with the status quo, which means a permanent state of war and the deadly reality of occupation it established in 1967.”
On our way out, I noticed that the studio of GOD TV, the evangelical End Times network, were right next door. GOD TV is the key funder of the Jewish National Fund’s plan to plant a million trees directly over the site of the Bedouin village Al-Arakib, a scheme that has resulted in ten demolitions of the village and untold damage to its residents. I knocked on the door of GOD TV’s studio and a tall, lanky producer appeared. He told me he was from the Netherlands and introduced himself as Klaas. I asked if his network was funding the JNF’s plan to plant a forest that would permanently displace Al-Arakib, forcing its residents’ transfer to the Indian reservation style development town of Rahat.
He told me that while they are planting a million trees to beautify the land for the Second Coming of Christ, he knew nothing about Al-Arakib. “The JNF hasn’t told us anything about that and we certainly wouldn’t be a part of anything that would do what you described,” he said. Then he demanded I support my claims with evidence.
Klaas allowed me to go online on one of GOD TV’s computers to show him my video of the demolition of Al-Arakib. Unfortunately, Google and YouTube were blocked by a search filter on all of the network’s computers. Either a wave of porn watching and chronic masturbation has swept through GOD TV a la AIPAC in the Steve Rosen era, or they are restricted from accessing outside information like North Koreans. Or both. I left Klaas with an article by Neve Gordon about his network’s collaboration with the JNF.
As I was leaving, Klaas suddenly grew argumentative. “An Israeli friend who lives in the Negev told me the Bedouins have to be removed because they steal everything,” he said. “That’s their way of life — theft.”
I asked if he ever spoken to a Bedouin or gone to the Negev to see the situation for himself. He said he hadn’t. I then asked if he had ever met a Palestinian Christian. While our conversation took place, GOD TV was broadcasting a “report” on the Hebron massacre of 1929 which featured black and white footage of Arab men jumping around with swords in a frenzied manner interspersed with interviews with settlers.
“I noticed in Holland a lot of people said they were Christian but they didn’t even go to church, so I realized that they were not really Christians. I mean, what kind of Christians are these Palestinians?” Klaas said. He seemed to be suggesting that anyone who was not born-again was not an authentic Christian.
I told him that most of the Palestinian Christians are Orthodox, and that some are direct descendants of the Apostles. I explained that the Christians of Bethlehem have been physically assaulted by Israeli troops for attempting to celebrate Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, that Christians in Gaza are blocked by Israel from celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem, and that the mayor of Nazareth Illit banned the public display of Christmas trees this year because he considered them “provocative.” “You can freely walk where Jesus walked because you’re an international,” I told Klaas, “but what if you were a Palestinian?”
He seemed disturbed by what I had just told him. “They really banned Christmas trees in Nazareth?” he asked. “Yeah, it was widely reported,” I replied. He paused, then came back at me: “Well, I’m not going to just stand here and believe what you say. If you approach the situation in one way, then you can fit everything into your point of view.”
I responded that that was exactly what GOD TV was doing with its broadcasts. He said, “Yeah, well you have to remember that we are a pro-Zionist network.” Then he added, “I’m happy to talk to you, but you’re not going to convince me.”
A Day In Kangaroo Court
Yesterday, I took a bus to Beersheva with a group of Israeli activists and the Bedouin residents of Al-Arakib and Rahat. The city’s courthouse was our destination. Inside, lawyers for Al-Arakib were contesting the JNF’s plan to plant a forest on their land. Deeds of ownership were presented proving the rights of the residents to remain in Al-Arakib. “This is our land and our grandfather’s land,” a 24-year-old resident of Rahat named Mohammed Abu Hamid, told me. “They have already taken so much from us. If they take everything, where else can we be?”
Gadi Algazi, a professor and activist who was arrested during the 10th demolition of the village, an episode in which Israeli police fired rubber bullets, told me that the plaintiffs are expected to lose. “We have a supposedly independent judge but the court system is completely stacked against the Bedouins,” Algazi said. “They almost always lose these cases. But this is one of the last chances to stop the JNF so they invested heavily in the case.”
Were it not for the wave of sustained activism against the JNF’s plans, the people of Al Arakib would have already been swept away like dust — like so many of the Bedouin tribes who were expelled to Gaza in ‘48 and after. The court cases and demonstrations have at least postponed their cruel fate. But the demolitions and attendant violence have taken their toll.
Samia Al-Touri, a resident of Al-Arakib who has served as a key link to international and Jewish Israeli activists, said that six young members of the village were injured by rubber bullets during the last demolition. Jill Kestler-D’Amours, an activist and reporter who has spent extensive time in Al-Arakib, told me that many children from the village are suffering from bedwetting, nightmares and general trauma. Some fear returning to Al-Arakib so much they have already been resettled in Rahat — a quiet transfer.
Today I learned that Al-Arakib has lost its case in the Beersheva court. The JNF and GOD TV’s plans will move ahead. In a few minutes, Al Jazeera will air a special report on Palestine Papers detailing Israeli proposals to transfer large numbers of Palestinian Israelis into the West Bank, showing how the state uses its own non-Jewish citizens as bargaining chips. To anyone who has visited an unrecognized village like Al-Arakib, this revelation would not come as a surprise.
Below is a translated portion of Al-Touri’s interview conducted by Kestler-D’Amours and witnessed by me:
A week ago in the early morning, Israelis came from the Jewish National Fund. They didn’t give us time to wake our children up or take things out of the house. They demolished the houses and destroyed the water inside the house. This was the 10th demolition in al-Araqib and after this they began to plow everything. What they demolished they plowed. Big cars, about 40 cars or more. Then they wanted to plant trees in the land, and when the tractors came in they were confronted by the people of al-Araqib who tried to stop them.
They shot rubber bullets at us, and injured the youth and we had six injured the first days, many were prevented to go to hospitals. Also about five were arrested. After that, they came again to plant trees and then the lawyer stopped them from doing this by a court order.
That day there was demolitions, 7 people were injured, women were shot at. A child of 13-years-old was injured. People were arrested. 5 were arrested who were from al-Araqib, and 4 Israeli Jews were arrested from those in solidarity with us and who protect our cause. This is what happened in the past few days.
This is a decisive court [hearing], and we want to tell them to leave. We lost trust in these courts and this is why many of us are here today. This is a decisive court session and we want them to return our rights. We have all the necessary documents that prove that this land is ours and that we inherited it from our ancestors. For this, we came to tell this state stop demolitions, stop destroying, stop damaging our land in al-Araqib. We don’t want you to plant trees in our land, we want to build it again for us and our children, like any other citizens of the country.