Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Waiting for Justice--The demolition of Elarakib Village--073110, Elarakib, Israel

View of the destroyed village as we entered

This is a post that I thought I had published--but I didn't--from my visit to Elarakib last July when it was first demolished. Last article on Al Jazeera talked about the fifth demolition......

I wanted to visit the unrecognized villages on the Negev since I first came to Israel. I heard about them when one of its Bedoiun representatives came to the Tree of Life conference last Fall in CT. Then the (un)expected happened, and the news that the village of Elarakib had been demolished,were all over the media, so I wanted to go and help as I could, reconstruction or just being there for people to know that they were not left alone. The weekend of my birthday, I joined a delegation leaving from Jerusalem that went to the Bedouin village of Elarakib, located in the Negev desert. The village was completely demolished by the government earlier this week. About 160 thousand Bedouin citizens of the State of Israel currently live in the Negev. Over 80,000 of them live in 45 unrecognized villages with populations ranging from 500 to 5,000 residents, which Elarakib is one of them. These villages do not belong to any regional council, and their residents do not have any water, electricity or sewage infrastructure, paved roads, garbage disposal, etc. Many of these villages have no clinics, schools or kindergartens.

Safa'a, one of the girls playing in the rubble of one of the demolished houses in Elarakib

The men of the village work all day to put up structures to put families back under a roof on theri land in Elarakib

Reports said that around 1500 soldiers came into the village early in the morning, when everyone was sleeping. That represents a ratio of 5:1 soldiers to Bedouines. I was very sad to see all that but happy to be there in solidarity. Our bus, from Jerusalem was full of people that brought water and supplies. The people from the village welcomed us and were very happy that we were there. In the same tent that we were received, there was a display of pictures from the day of the demolition. The local people showed us around the village and explained the situation that they face now, which dates from the creation of the state of Israel. There is a court dispute over who owns the land. The Israeli government claims that the land does not belong to the Bedouines, that it was confiscated land, but the question is from whom? You guessed right, from the Bedouines.

The man that was showing us the destruction of the village said that when his son woke up, to the sound of bulldozers, he asked why they were destroying his house. How can a father respond to a question like this? He paused and replied that they did it, “so we can build a better home”. He kept explaining that the Israelis just want to keep the land only to declare it state land, because according to Israeli law if a land is declared a green area, it cannot be claimed for anything else.

This was how it looked the first time when the village was demolished in July 2010

This is an extract from a book that I found on the rubble of one of the demolished houses in the village. The book is called “Waiting for Justice: A document of the story of the Elokbi tribe in Israel”.

Representatives of the military government had been coming every morning with summons ordering the sheikh to come to the governor’s office in Beer Sheva or to his office near Elarakib. For four months, in all these meetings the military governor cajoles the sheikh to abandon his dwellings and go somewhere else.

The sheikh asked, “Why should we be displaced, since we have become citizens of the state of Israel? We are on our land, and this is why we remained under Israeli rule!” His honor picked up his pipe and announces with a smile as he blew smoke in every direction: “Your region is needed for military exercises for the next six months and afterwards you can return to it. There are no grounds on which you can oppose this order”. The military governor acceded to the sheikh’s request and has one of his representatives scribble a note to the effect that the Elokbi tribe will receive a large tract of land which they can farm during the current year until they are returned to their own land. The substitute lands they received actually belonged to other Bedouin farmers.

Days and months passed and the impending disaster was becoming real. Members of the tribe and its sheikhs were sure they would have to evacuate their lands. Indeed on November 11, 1951, army trucks move the tribe from the Elarakib region to the Hura region. The Hura region was defined as “Sayag”, an area that cannot be entered or left without permission of the military government.

Historical Background

Up till 1948, the Elokbi tribe lived in two areas: Zhilikha and Elarakib. The land possessed and farmed by the Elokbi tribe who remained and became Israeli citizens was approximately 19,000 dunams. The tribe lived on these lands from time immemorial, dwelling either in tents or in stone houses. Both the Turkish rule and the British Mandate recognized their ownership of the land

From 1948-1951, the Bedouin lives the life of Israeli citizens, farming their land, raising sheep, goats, cattle and camels. Those owning land were requested to pay taxes and they did so. The state even recognized the authority of the tribal court that was convened in the home of the Sheikh Suleiman Elokbi, as an heir to the mandatory Beer Sheva tribal court.

In reality the “promise” given by the representatives of the military government turned out to be a trick:

a) The land the tribe receive in Hura was much smaller than what it was uprooted from Elarakib
b) The alternative land, which was supposedly given to the Elokbi tribe in Hura, actually belonged to other local Bedouin farmers, which made it impossible for them to make use of it.
c) Living conditions in Hura were much worse than in Elarakib. For example, formerly, they had a school; here, there was none. The tribe’s children did not go to school at all from 1951 until 1966. There was no water supply in Hura, thus they had to endure years of water shortage.
d) The return to Elarakib, which was supposed to take place within six months, has been blocked until this very day, and the tribe still lives in Hura, denied all services, in an area allocated by the military government.

In 1954, the sheikh returned to his home in Elarakib, he was arrested and his house totally demolished by the military government, nothing has changed since then, as the same story repeats itself in 2010.

When the Israeli came to Elarakib, despite the demolition orders where for the homes, they destroyed trees, water cisterns and animal houses, even they warned the family that they will confiscate expensive electronic equipment that the families could not take out of the homes, because of the demolition short time notice (sometimes they gave families about 15 minutes to leave the home). The Bedouines we talked to said that they didn’t care about the houses because they could be rebuilt, but what they cared more were the trees. They destroyed trees that were planted 10 years before, when the previous demolitions were carried in the village. After the tour, we sat in the big tent all together, and some of the village elders and representatives were talking about the struggle of the Bedouines in the Negev. One member of the Arab Islamic Party spoke and he said that the struggle is not only about the Bedouines, but is everyone struggle’s, because as he said, here, we never know who is going to be next.

This story sounds familiar, right? It’s the same Palestinians struggle, all over Israel, a story of discrimination, racism, injustice and misery. And this is the story of ONE village! We haven’t heard the story of the more than forty other unrecognized villages that struggle to survive in the Negev desert, but go unnoticed to the rest of the world.

Elarakib Sheikh Sayah Al Touri addressed and thanked the people for coming and suporting Elarakib

In a mesage from Sheikh Sayah after he was prohibited from entering the village he said:
The Bedouins are citizens of Israel. We want to live in dignity; we are not intruders. These lands are not state lands. These lands are the lands of the tribes in al-Arakib, and those calling us "invaders" should answer the following question: Did the State of Israel bring along all these lands with it when it was founded, or were these lands here before its establishment?

I will split the post, and continue the story on the next post, because otherwise it would be extremely long. This was just a background and history of the Elokbi tribe’s struggle to “stand for their right to live as free and equal citizens, to farm their land earn their livelihood and build their homes without fear; to be full partners in the drawing up of plans and policy that determines their future.”

Children paiting a big banner with the name of the village in Arabic

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