Israel turns up the heat to evict Bedouin from desert lands

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Aug 29 02:34:43 BST 2009

turns up the heat to evict Bedouin from desert 

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 15:21

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, while the dirt track 
they must use instead is regularly blocked by 
temporary checkpoints at which their papers and 
vehicles are inspected at length.

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.

“Four-fifths of our youngsters now have files 
with the police and our drivers are being 
repeatedly fined for supposed traffic 
violations,” said Tulab Tarabin, one of Amra’s 
400 Bedouin inhabitants. “Every time we are 
stopped, the police ask us: ‘Why don’t you leave?’”

Lawyers and human rights activists say a campaign 
of pressure is being organised against the 
Tarabin at the behest of a nearby Jewish 
community, Omer, which is determined to build a 
neighbourhood for Israeli army officers on the tribe’s land.

“The policy in Israel is that when Jews need 
land, the Bedouin must move – no matter how long 
they have been living in their homes or whether 
their communities predate Israel’s creation,” 
said Morad al Sana, a lawyer with the Adalah 
legal centre for Israel’s Arab minority. “The 
Tarabin’s crime is that they refuse to budge.”

The 180,000 Bedouin in the Negev have never been 
welcome, says Oren Yiftachel, a geographer at Ben 
Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva. They 
are descendants of a few thousand who managed to 
avoid expulsion from the southern semi-desert 
region during the 1948 war that founded Israel.

Many of the surviving Bedouin, including the 
Tarabin, were forcibly relocated from their 
extensive ancestral lands in the 1950s to an area 
close to the Negev’s main city, Beersheva, Prof 
Yiftachel said. Israel declared the Bedouin lands 
as “state land” and established a series of 
overcrowded “townships” to house the tribes instead.

“The stated goal is one of ‘Judaisation’,” Prof 
Yiftachel added, referring to a long-standing 
policy of concentrating the rural Bedouin into 
urban reservations to free up land for Jewish 
settlement. About half of the Negev’s Bedouin, 
some 90,000, have refused to move.

According to a recent report from the Association 
of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the townships 
have “continuously ranked as the poorest, least 
developed and most crime-ridden towns in Israel”.

The refuseniks, such as the Tarabin, have faced 
unrelenting pressure to leave their 45 rural 
communities, none of which is recognised by the 
state. The villagers endure “third world conditions”, according to ACRI.

“The unrecognised villages are denied basic 
services to their homes, including water and 
electricity, and the villages themselves have no 
master plans,” Mr al Sana said.

As a result, he added, the villagers are forced 
to live in tin shacks and tents because concrete 
homes are invariably destroyed by the 
authorities. In the past two years, several 
shacks as well as the local kindergarten in Amra have been demolished.

The stark contrast between the dusty encampment 
of Amra and the green lawns and smart villas of 
Omer, only a stone’s throw away and the country’s 
third wealthiest community, is unsettling even 
for some of Omer’s 7,000 residents.

One, Yitzhak Nevo, a philosophy professor at Ben 
Gurion University and a leading activist with 
Dukium, a Negev coexistence group, said that, 
although the lands on which the Tarabin live fall 
under Omer’s jurisdiction, the Bedouin have been 
entirely excluded. “Even though they live within 
Omer’s municipal limits, their children get no 
education from us; our health clinic does not 
treat them; they are not hooked up to our water 
or electricity supplies and their refuse is not collected.”

He said Amra had been treated as nothing more 
than an eyesore until the mid-1990s when the 
powerful mayor, Pinhas Badash, decided that the 
Tarabin were both harming property values and 
obstructing the town’s expansion plans.

As Omer’s new neighbourhoods reached the limits 
of Amra, Mr Badash stepped up the pressure on the 
villagers to leave. A few years ago he pushed 
through the building of a new community for the 
Tarabin away from Omer. Two-thirds of the tribe 
relocated, while the remainder fought the 
attempted eviction through the courts.

“It was a very dirty business in which those in 
the tribe who left first were offered cheap land 
on which to build while the rest were threatened 
that they would be offered nothing,” Mr al Sana said.

Amra’s remaining Bedouin have found themselves 
surrounded by a tall wire fence to separate them 
from Omer. Two gates, ordered by the courts to 
ensure the Bedouin continued to have road access 
through the town, were sealed this year.

Since the beginning of the summer police patrol 
Amra’s side of the fence around the clock and the 
Tarabin report that a private security firm 
chases off any of them found inside Omer.

Nissim Nir, a spokesman for Mr Badash, denied 
that the Tarabin were being hounded. Omer made a 
generous offer to relocate them from their “illegal” site, he said.

Recently Mr Badash announced that thousands of 
acres around Omer would be forested with the 
intention of stopping the Bedouin from returning 
to the area once they had been evicted.

Mr Tarabin, 33, accused the police of being 
little more than hired hands carrying out Mr Badash’s plan.

“We are being suffocated. There are night-time 
searches of our homes using bogus pretexts, and 
arrests of young children. We are photographed 
and questioned as we go about our business. At 
the roadblocks they endlessly check cars entering 
and leaving, and fines are issued. No one visits 
us unless they have to, and we stay home unless we have to leave.”

He added: “Why is it so impossible for Omer to 
imagine allowing us to be a neighbourhood of the town?”

A report by Human Rights Watch last year severely 
criticised Israel’s treatment of the Bedouin.

Global Arab Network

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in 
Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel 
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and 
the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) 
and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments 
in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is A version of this article originally appeared in The National.
Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills

+44 (0)7786 952037

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