Bedouin

In what was billed as a “day of rage”, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to protest against a plan to uproot tens of thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral lands inside Israel, in the Negev. The stakes are high, not least because Israel views this battle as a continuation of the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestine. The roots of the so-called Prawer Plan can be traced to one of Zionism’s earliest and most sinister principles: “Judaisation”.

Israel has been intensifying a campaign to evict Palestinian farming communities from their ancestral lands to replace them with Jewish newcomers. Israeli human rights lawyers, tired of the international community’s formulaic criticisms, say it is time to be more forthright. They call these “ethnic cleansing” zones – intended to drive off Palestinians irrespective of the provisions of international law and whether or not the Palestinians in question hold Israeli citizenship.

Over the past 15 months the dusty plains of the northern Negev desert in Israel have been witness to a ritual of destruction, part of a police operation known as Hot Wind. On 29 occasions, hundreds of Israeli paramilitary officers have made the pilgrimage to the zinc sheds and hemp tents of al-‘Araqib. Within hours of their arrival, the 45 ramshackle structures — home to some 300 Bedouin villagers — are pulled down and al-‘Araqib is wiped off the map once again.

Half a million trees planted over the past 18 months on the ancestral lands of Bedouin tribes in Israel’s Negev region were bought by a controversial Christian evangelical television channel that calls itself God-TV. A sign posted a few kilometres north of Beersheva, the Negev’s main city, announces plans to plant a total of a million trees over a large area of desert that has already been designated “God-TV Forest”.

Nuri al Uqbi’s small cinderblock home in a ramshackle neighbourhood of Hura, a Bedouin town in Israel’s Negev desert, hardly looks like the epicentre of a legal struggle that some observers say threatens Israel’s Jewish character. Inside, the 68-year-old Bedouin activist has stacks of bulging folders of tattered and browning documents, many older than the state of Israel itself, that he hopes will overturn decades of harsh government policy towards the Negev’s 180,000 Bedouin.

Israeli security forces destroyed a Bedouin village this week for the second time in a matter of days, leaving 300 inhabitants homeless again after they and dozens of Jewish and Arab volunteers had begun rebuilding the 45 homes. Human rights groups warned that these appeared to be the opening shots in a long-threatened campaign by the Israeli government to begin mass forced removals of tens of thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral lands in the southern Negev.

The Zakai and Tarabin families should be a picture of happy coexistence across the ethnic divide, a model for others to emulate in Israel. But Natalie and Weisman Zakai say the past three years – since the Jewish couple offered to rent their home to Bedouin friends, Ahmed and Khalas Tarabin – have been a living hell. “I have always loved Israel,” said Mrs Zakai, 43. “But to see the depth of the racism of our neighbours has made me question why we live in this country.”

About 35,000 Bedouin residents of Israel’s southern Negev have been denied the right to hold their first local council election after the Israeli parliament passed a law at the last minute to cancel this month’s ballot. The new law gives the government the power to postpone elections to the regional council, known as Abu Basma, until the interior ministry deems the local Bedouin ready to run their own affairs. Legal and human rights groups say the move is an unprecedented violation of Israel’s constitutional principles.

The inhabitants of the Bedouin village of Amra have good reason to fear that the harsh tactics used by the Israeli army against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been imported to their small corner of Israel’s Negev desert. Over the summer, the Tarabin tribe, all of them Israeli citizens, have had the sole access road to their homes sealed off. Coils of razor wire encircle much of the village, and children as young as eight have been arrested in a series of night-time raids.

Little Ashimah Abu Sbieh’s life hangs by a thread – or more specifically, an electricity cable that runs from a noisy diesel-powered generator in the family’s backyard. Should the generator’s engine fail, she could die within minutes. Ashimah suffers from a rare genetic condition that means her brain fails to tell her lungs to work. Without the assistance of an electric inhalator, she would simply stop breathing.

Among the images of Israel’s 60th Independence Day celebrations to be found on the internet is a photograph of CNN reporter Ben Wedeman being kicked firmly on the behind as he tries to run from the boot of an armed policeman. All around him, as other photographs reveal, journalists are fleeing for safety, families are being charged by mounted police, and parents can be seen grabbing toddlers as clouds of tear gas engulf them. The stragglers are shown with bloodied faces after a beating with police batons.