By Ali Badwan
A few days ago, Israeli bulldozers destroyed forty houses in the Palestinian Beduin village of Al-Arakib north of the city of Beersheba in the Negev Desert. Around 300 people were displaced under the pretext of "building without a permit" in a village that is one of the 46 Bedouin Arab Palestinian villages in the Negev region which Israel does not recognize.
Why was this action taken against the village of Al-Arakib? And was it linked to urban planning, as claimed by the occupation authorities, or was it part of government policy against the Arabs of the Negev to herd them into "reservations" so that Israel can complete the Judaisation of the area?
In 1948, during the Nakba (catastrophe) that affected the Palestinians with the creation of the state of Israel, some of the indigenous population managed to stay on their land, especially in Galilee, the Negev and around Lod, Ramle and Jaffa. Around 135,000 Palestinians remained in what became the Jewish state; 850,000 of their compatriots ended up as refugees.
The existence of this Palestinian population within Israel had an impact on Israel, more so after it was realised that the Palestinians' birth rate was much higher than that of the Jews. Today there are 1.3 million Palestinian citizens of Israel who are an integral part of the Palestinian liberation movement, struggling to reclaim their national identity.
Life was not easy for these Israeli citizens living under a version of military rule until 1966 which placed restrictions on them with regards to their land, jobs, travel and so on. Israel has worked hard to break up Arab unity, dividing them into four categories: 1. Palestinian Muslims and Christians from rural areas and cities; 2. Palestinian Druze; 3. Palestinians of Circassian and other ethnic origins; and 4. Palestinian Bedouins. It also imposed military service on those belonging to the second, third and fourth groups as part of border units and other sectors of the occupation army.
At present, Palestinian Bedouin make up to about 12% of the Palestinians in Israel, or around 160,000 people. Palestinians are expected to account for 30% of the total population of the Jewish state by the year 2025.
The majority of the Bedouin of Palestine who stayed on their land 1948 live in the Negev region, with the rest living in the eastern and Upper Galilee region of northern Palestine.
While the Palestinians face the illegal Zionist colonial settlements built on the territories occupied since 1967, the Israelis are moving on the implementation of their settlement policy and Judaisation inside Israel itself, in what is called the "seven stars plan" to destabilise its Palestinian citizens.
The land of the Galilee and the Negev is traditionally Arab land which has been confiscated since 1948 as part of Israel's racist persecution of its Arab citizens, using more than forty "laws" to do so. The "Israeli National Security Council" proposed four years ago to resolve the "problem" of Palestinian Arab villages in the Negev Desert, which are not recognized by the government, through a number of plans devised by the genius Zionist fanatics who promote Judaisation and population "transfer" (aka ethnic cleansing). Indeed, the sixth Herzliya Conference held four years ago, debated various proposals in this regard as it was rated as one of the important topics to be covered.
The conference agreed to a previously implemented proposal when the Negev Bedouin were to be herded together in eight areas. The guiding principle appeared to be based on "Judaising this space through putting as many Arabs as possible on as small an area of land as possible, and distributing as few Jews as possible on as large an area of land as possible". As the number of homes for Bedouins is reduced, the number being planned and provided for Jews is rising.
As a result, the Israeli authorities are confiscating more and more land from the Bedouin Arabs in order to provide space for the Jewish community. Around 56% of the Negev Bedouins are now crammed in seven towns set up specifically for them: Rahat, Hura, Tel Sheva, Lakiya, Segev Shalom, Kseifa and Negev Ara'ara. It is worth noting that these "towns" lack appropriate infrastructure and receive inadequate levels of government services, putting them on a par with other Arab towns and villages across Israel.
In the unrecognised villages, the infrastructure is extremely limited. Most of the homes are actually huts, tents or other unstable structures. The residents are subject to harassment by the authorities, facing the demolition of their shelters and abuse. According to estimates by Ben Gurion University four years ago, demolition orders had been delivered to 16,000 buildings in such villages. In addition, in the two years up to March 2004 the Israeli authorities destroyed about 24,500 acres of crops planted by the villagers.
Education is a major problem in these communities, the more so because it is a young society with 54% of the Bedouin under 14 years of age. The drop-out rate before 12th grade is 60%, even higher for girls. The reasons can generally be traced back to Israeli policies of underinvestment.
Any close examination of Israel's efforts in this respect reveals that the whole point is to make life as miserable as possible for the Bedouin, with their towns becoming overcrowded neighbourhoods with all of the social ills that usually follow poor health and education services arising from a lack of investment by the state; this is apartheid, Israeli-style.
The fate that has befallen Al-Arakib village is the fact that awaits all of the other unrecognised villages in the Negev. Israel is determined to eradicate Palestinian identity in the region as it marches on with its policy of Judaisation.
*The author is a Palestinian writer based in Syria
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.