Last week, on 27 July 2016, the state of Israel demolished al-’Araqib for the 101st time. Al-’Araqib is one of the dozens of “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of Israel that receive no state services, including water, electricity, or sanitation.
For years, the state has sought to evict al-’Araqib’s residents in order to make way for two Jewish National Fund forests: the “Ambassadors’ Forest” and the “God-TV Forest,” the latter sponsored by a Christian Evangelical television network. In July 2010, Israeli forces demolished the village — except for its Ottoman-era cemetery — and uprooted its precious olive trees. The inhabitants immediately returned and started rebuilding their homes. The cycle of construction and destruction has continued ever since. Today there are only three families remaining on the site in tents. Below is a video showing villagers, mainly women, confronting the JNF’s bulldozers (English subtitles available by activating the captions).
As this short documentary by Adalah “From Al-Araqib to Susya” shows, the demolitions are part of the broader campaign to “Judaize” the southern portion of Israel/Palestine, on both sides of the Green Line. Whether the residents are citizens of Israel or stateless civilians living under Israeli occupation, Palestinian Bedouin are especially vulnerable to forced displacement.
The Nakba Files recently spoke to 19-year-old Hala Abu Medeghem, who remains in al-’Araqib, about her experiences. This interview was translated from Arabic and has been condensed for clarity.
What does the word “Nakba” mean to you?
The Nakba is basically the tearing away of land, land that people lived on, were born on, grew up on, and that was suddenly taken away from them. Land from which they were expelled, pushed away. Land that they came to only dream of returning to, even if only for an hour or two or three. There are people who hope to come back to their land but who cannot.
I remember hearing this word “Nakba” since I was small. In my family they always spoke about the Nakba as the theft of our land. They would speak about how things were before, how people lived on the land and that it was suddenly taken away. From the time we are born all of us know this thing called the Nakba. Families would constantly tell their children about what happened to us as a people with our land, how the land was taken from us.
What happened when al-‘Araqib village was first demolished?
I was here the first time that the village was demolished and I have remained up until the 101st time it was demolished this week.
The first time, it was like a nightmare. Before, we were living an ordinary simple life in the village, and then suddenly everything changed in the space between dusk and dawn. We were only small children at the time, it was years ago at this point, but I remember. The Zionists came with their tractors, police, and border guards at dawn. There were so many vehicles you couldn’t count them, and over a thousand soldiers. This is a village where people live an ordinary, simple life, and then suddenly you can’t imagine such a huge number of police and soldiers, with their tractors, their vans, their bulldozers. They sealed off the area: no one could come in or get out. All this time, there were helicopters circling the village overhead. They detained us for sixteen hours while demolishing the village. Sixteen hours without food, without water. The little kids developed psychological conditions, they had to be treated by doctors later. The life that we had before was suddenly turned upside down all at once.
How have the people of al-’Araqib resisted the demolitions?
Many are resisting and are working against the demolitions. The first person I must mention is my grandfather, Sheikh Sayyah al-Turi. Without him, people would have been silent. He is the symbol of steadfastness (sumoud) throughout all of the Naqab. He is the one who started the solidarity campaign, the demonstrations, the discussions, and who raised the morale of everyone who lives here. Even the other unrecognized villages have taken strength from his example. He was the one who took the first step, and the rest of us have continued the path. He pushed us to demonstrate and to raise our voices so that the whole world must hear us. We have held many demonstrations and have reached Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and any place we can get to. The foreign ambassadors have come out to see us. My grandfather helped bring our message to the whole world: to London, to Paris, wherever you can think of and thanks to God has enabled us to raise our voices.
What do you think of the Israeli justice system?
As much as Israel claims to be a democratic state, the total opposite is true, at least when it comes to the Bedouin. “We are a democratic state and will take care of you.” But what really happens? Whatever image they want to present to the world about us is an upside-down version of the truth, the truth of how they treat the weak and marginalized in this state. Why don’t the courts issue a ruling that recognizes that this is our land? We will continue to push the government and the courts for our rights.
What do you think of what the JNF is doing here?
The JNF brings tractors, digs up the land, and wants to build a center. They don’t allow people to enter or even to get close to where they are. If someone tries even to take a photograph the JNF will bring the police to put them in jail. The main goal here is to put trees, bring settlers, and build what they are calling a resort at the expense of Bedouin lands.
As far as the trees that they are planting, their idea is totally off. Original trees of this land include olive and fig trees, and grapevines. There’s another plant, gundelia [ka’ub], that grows everywhere around here. But what happened to the gundelia now, where did it go? It’s all gone, all taken away. Instead of letting the land grow the plants that it normally does, the JNF brings trees that may provide shade but don’t produce anything to eat.
How has the loss of your crops affected your lifestyle?
We used to eat from what we grew. We grew our own fruits and vegetables: most important were olives, which we would grow, and pickle, and distribute to neighbors. There were also figs, grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, everything. This is fertile land. We used to have sheep and cows and would make milk and cheese, but we haven’t been able to do so for the past two years. Today, we don’t have these crops. Instead, we have to go to the supermarket, it’s quite an ordeal to go there, get what we need, and bring it back.
Life has become difficult. There is no work. My father stays on his land and cannot work. He is afraid that if he leaves something will happen: the police will come back and demolish what’s left and prevent us from returning, or that something could happen to my grandfather. Things are not at all as they were before. Making a livelihood has gotten so difficult because of what Israel has been doing to us. But God willing, we will continue to stand up to Israel and to resist and stay on our land.
What are your hopes?
The hope of all the people of al-’Araqib is the same, be it the men, the women, the young, the old: to return to our land here, and to return things to the way they were before. That is the first and last of our demands.