May 12, 2013
On April 26, the documentary by legal workers at the Adalah Legal Center “From al-Araqib to Susiya” featuring testimonies from the residents was screened in both of the villages.
al-Araqib is located roughly eight kilometers north of Beersheba in the Naqab desert, whereas Susiya lies within the 1949 Armistice “Green Line,” six kilometers south-east of Yatta in the South Hebron Hills.
The 20-minute short film delved into the causes and thus the similarities between the forced displacement in each village in an attempt to encourage the understanding of a long-held fact: there is only one system of apartheid and only one occupation.
Audience members, roughly numbering around 100 and comprising of Palestinians from both territories amidst a smattering of Jewish-Israelis and internationals, had travelled by a prearranged bus from al-Araqib through a checkpoint in the South Hebron Hills, and stopped to watch the film in Susiya. The concept and impetus for the documentary came from the employees at Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, with the help of many civil society organizations, and some notable academics including Oren Yiftachel.
“There are some legal differences [between the demolitions and confiscation of land in both villages], but the responsible authorities represent the same power and use similar methods,” Yiftachel explained.
“The Bedouins in the Negev [Naqab] have [Israeli] citizenship, but it hasn’t prevented the state from gravely abusing their rights. In Susiya, the village is in a prime area designated to be Judaized as part of Area C. Both are key sites for resisting the colonial push.”
The film is a radical attempt, albeit within a pseudo-legal framework, to express and illuminate a growing feeling among many Palestinians that the occupation is no longer as ambiguously and shrewdly divided between the 48 and 67 territories as it has formerly been. Many have expressed this before, and the knowledge of “one occupation” has been there since its existence. Yet as Israeli national dialogue towards Palestinians becomes ever more genocidal, and eliminates Palestinians (whether citizens or not) from the history books, a consensus has developed within pockets of Palestinian society that the fight needs to be taken as a unified whole.
The Prawer Plan and Judaization
A little over two weeks ago at the end of April, the Israeli civilian police force Yassam destroyed al-Araqib for the forty-ninth time.
The Arab Bedouin are indigenous to the Naqab desert, having lived there since the seventh century. Yet under Israeli law they have no recognized inhabitations. The law specifies that uncultivated land can be transferred to state land if required, so the transitory lifestyle of the Bedouin does not equate with a right to the land. Yet Bedouin communities have been fixed and stabilised since the 16th century, with travel limited to privately owned plots of land and collectively held pasture lands that have been historically established.
After the Nakba in 1948, 81,000 Bedouin were forcefully displaced from the desert, with 11,000 being forced into what is known as the “Siyag” (or “fence” in Arabic), a restricted zone in the northern Naqab. Inside this area live two groups; the internally displaced Bedouin from elsewhere in the Naqab, and the original Bedouin residents inside the newly-designated Siyag. They lived in 35 unrecognized villages and the seven townships that were created by the state of Israel since 1969. There is only one Bedouin village left elsewhere in the Naqab.
al-Araqib is one of the 35 unrecognized villages in the Siyag. The police have continually destroyed al-Araqib since July 2010 in an attempt to coerce the population to move into the townships. After every destruction, the residents who number over 300 build temporary structures in the village cemetery, the only plot of land left untouched by the Israeli soldiers. Since then, the villagers have proudly rebuilt their homes out of the rubble left behind.
“First of all the soldiers asked us to get out of the houses,” said Aziz al-Tori, the son of al-Araqib’s Sheikh Siyakh al-Tori. “They ask us if we want to fight them, to make a conflict with [the police] and our people. But we know this is in their interests. They want to start something, in order to make us put our hands up and leave our houses.”
“Still they pushed and pulled us outside,” he continued, speaking about the most recent demolition. “They asked us for our [Israeli] passports. They pushed us into the cemetery, and then they came with their bulldozers and destroyed everything.”
The demolitions are conducted under the remit of the Prawer Plan, an ambiguous piece of legislation that connects the web of structures that aim to force the Bedouin from their ancestral homes. At its core it is attempting to “recognize as many villages as possible” by demolishing the unrecognized villages. The Prawer Plan Law, an extension of the original Plan, is the mechanical arm of Prawer, and aims to solve the Bedouin “problem” within the next five years.
“The Prawer Plan is vague,” states Oren Yiftachel. “The bill is very regressive and should be stopped. The UN and EU have spoken against it. The government must come up with a plan based on equality and recognition. Only then will the Negev begin to prosper.”
On the ground, the demolitions are ordered and coordinated by the Israel Land Administration (ILA), which has control over 93% of the land inside Israel. The ILA has harmonized its efforts with the Jewish National Fund, a quasi-governmental organization that has been acquiring Palestinian land for Jewish settlement projects since 1901, under the guise of forestation and land management projects. The JNF has fifty percent of the representation within the ILA, so while it technically owns 13% of the land in Israel, it has de facto control over much more. To summarise, the ILA is a governmental body, working for Israelis. The JNF is a quasi-governmental body working to secure a Jewish-only land, thus making the link between race and citizenship even more pronounced in the state of Israel.
Therefore, aside from demolishing their homes, not recognizing their existence, and denying their right to state services, the Israeli state has also confiscated sixty-six percent of the lands of al-Araqib for the creation of two large forests.
Susiya has a wholly similar history. The 350 residents live in Area C, next to the thirty-year-old site of Suseya, a Jewish-only settlement. Seventy percent of Susiya’s land has been confiscated, with another seventy percent of its structures slated for demolition for being located on what the Israeli authorities believe is an archaeological site. Settlers frequently carry out acts of physical and psychological violence on the villagers with complete impunity.
Displacement in separated territories by same political power
With 70,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel to be forcibly displaced under the Prawer Plan and 5,000 West Bank residents facing displacement from Area C, it is obvious to many that these two forced displacement cases are linked. However, the growing consensus at Adalah, as with other legal organizations, is that the link needs to become part of Palestinian dialogue and exist within the public domain.
“We launched a campaign to stop the Prawer Plan. After this we came across a similar campaign in the West Bank called ‘Stand With Susiya.� We thought this was very interesting, especially because they are only 15 kilometers away from each other,” explains Nadia Ben-Youssef, the consultant for Adalah at its Naqab office. “We started looking at things differently. Prawer was suspending constitutional principles, but there was also the suspension of International Humanitarian Law behind the Green Line. Then we said, well both are part of the suspension of International Human Rights that protects everyone anywhere.”
At first Adalah attempted to bridge the gap between current dialogue and the potential for a new framework of linked narratives by holding a roundtable discussion with civil society organization representatives in September 2012. The speeches conducted before and after the documentary worked with the meta-narrative between Palestinians in the 1967 and 1948 territories, and the idea of collaborative action was even floated, but the general atmosphere lacked a clear understanding of the fundamental shift that this partnership could unlock.
“It is the same group that destroys Susiya and al-Araqib,” Aziz al-Tori stated. “It is the same political idea. Everything is the same.”
thanks to: Felix Black