Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ethnic Cleansing in the Negev Desert

An absolutely harrowing, evil video from the Negev Desert in Israel (I can't embed that video, so seriously, click on that link, you need to watch it before you keep reading). I reported yesterday on a entire Bedouin village that was razed to the ground by Israel. Again, I REPEAT, these are ISRAELI CITIZENS whose homes are being demolished. Why? Well Neve Gordon, an Israeli academic suggests that it is in order to Judaise the Negev Desert, and replace the Arab Bedouins with a Jewish majority.
A menacing convoy of bulldozers was heading back to Be'er Sheva as I drove towards al-Arakib, a Bedouin village located not more than 10 minutes from the city. Once I entered the dirt road leading to the village I saw scores of vans with heavily armed policemen getting ready to leave. Their mission, it seems, had been accomplished.

The signs of destruction were immediately evident. I first noticed the chickens and geese running loose near a bulldozed house, and then saw another house and then another one, all of them in rubble. A few children were trying to find a shaded spot to hide from the scorching desert sun, while behind them a stream of black smoke rose from the burning hay. The sheep, goats and the cattle were nowhere to be seen – perhaps because the police had confiscated them.

Scores of Bedouin men were standing on a yellow hill, sharing their experiences from the early morning hours, while all around them uprooted olive trees lay on the ground. A whole village comprising between 40 and 45 houses had been completely razed in less than three hours.

I suddenly experienced deja vu: an image of myself walking in the rubbles of a destroyed village somewhere on the outskirts of the Lebanese city of Sidon emerged. It was over 25 years ago, during my service in the Israeli paratroopers. But in Lebanon the residents had all fled long before my platoon came, and we simply walked in the debris. There was something surreal about the experience, which prevented me from fully understanding its significance for several years. At the time, it felt like I was walking on the moon.

This time the impact of the destruction sank in immediately. Perhaps because the 300 people who resided in al-Arakib, including their children, were sitting in the rubble when I arrived, and their anguish was evident; or perhaps because the village is located only 10 minutes from my home in Be'er Sheva and I drive past it every time I go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem; or perhaps because the Bedouins are Israeli citizens, and I suddenly understood how far the state is ready to go to accomplish its objective of Judaising the Negev region; what I witnessed was, after all, an act of ethnic cleansing.

They say the next intifada will be the Bedouin intifada. There are 155,000 Bedouins in the Negev, and more than half of them live in unrecognised villages without electricity or running water. I do not know what they might do, but by making 300 people homeless, 200 of them children, Israel is surely sowing dragon's teeth for the future.

A piece from Richard Silverstein's blog is equally compelling. Here is an account from an activist who was on hand during the demolitions:
By: Daniel Dukarevich
Translation: Dena Shunra

I don’t have a fully congruent recollection of this night and this morning at Al Araqeeb. It’s probably better this way. All that is left is the images of the village being razed. An evil tale. Like watching a kaleidoscope where every image depicts horror.

Night. We arrive at Al Araqeeb, a village somewhat north of Beer Sheva. People and animals are running around among the tents and the houses. The air his heavy with tension, and the unspoken question in the face of every one of our hosts is: Are they coming? Or maybe not?

Another image

Residents of Al Araqeeb erect burning barricade to impede those seeking to destroy village. Resistance was futile
We are deep into the night. Eight or nine village youngsters are dancing and singing by a bonfire. Other bonfires are aflame on all the surrounding hills, casting the black smoke of burning tires into the already-black sky. They warn us, cast up a warning of some danger. Are they coming? Or maybe not?

And more

Convoys of lights draw nearer, from every direction. A convoy, and a convoy, and a convoy. The first rays of the rising sun shed their light on black-clad soldiers, faces covered, among the hundreds of vehicles. Marching. Weapons at the ready. Surrounding the village. They came.

And more

The valleys all around are strewn with military vehicles. Helicopters and unmanned planes are up in the air. The sun has risen. We count soldiers, then cars, then buses. There are thousands. Despair begins to run through us.

And more

Soldiers – facers covered – run into the village. Several residents and activists who were standing in their way are beaten, pushed back, thrown to the ground. A young woman pushes her way in, trips, falls onto the rocks, and cries out in pain. A soldiers stands over her, covered in black, face veiled, and laughs a laugh that I will never forget.

And more

Bulldozers are razing the village now. They crush the tin shanties, uproot everything that stands in their path. The villagers watch, too tired even to shout. One of them cries out in pain when the bulldozer pulls the olive trees out of the ground. “Leave the trees, at least, what have they done wrong? We’ve been growing them for ten years now.” “You shouldn’t even have shade,” murmurs one of the policemen.

And more

A little Bedouin boy ambles around the ruins of what had been his home. I don’t know how he got through the cordon of policemen. A colorful shred of cloth from among the piles of dirt gets his attention.

All of a sudden, a policeman appears. He sees the child. He makes the kind of gesture you’d make to swat away a fly, to make the kid go away.

The kid goes, but after taking a few steps he can’t help himself: he stops, looks over his shoulder.

The policeman gestures again. The kid goes away.

And more

The village has been destroyed. Crushed water tanks drip onto parched earth. A chicken hides under the branches of a felled olive tree. The Special Patrol Unit squadron stops for a souvenir photo near a large pile that had been, until an hour ago, a family’s home.

The warriors laugh. They stand there, arms over each other’s shoulders. They seem to be happy.

And more

One of our activists is weeping. He stands there, leans on the car, and cries quietly. I want to give him a hug, to tell him it will be all right, but I cannot. I cannot find inside myself even a drop of ability to help. There is nothing inside me.

And one that is yet to happen

I hated you today, villains, as I have never hated before. But this won’t work for you.

In the last image, you will see people who’ll rebuild their home, out of the sand and out of the desert. Aided by those citizens here who still have a drop of humanity inside them.

In the last image, you will see olive trees planted and growing, tended and houses being rebuilt.

In the last image, you will see Al Araqeeb coming to life again.

You will not erase it.

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