Visiting Al Arakib, slated to be totally demolished
21/7/10 - 3/8/10 104 °F
7/24 Day 4 - Negev, Bedouin people, and the Demolition Order against their home.
First, an observation from the highway on the way through the Negev Desert: the world standard for water is 110 liters per person per day. Israelis receive 360 liters, Palestinians 35. Israelis have swimming pools, Palestinians don't have enough to drink. And along the highways in the desert, Israel irrigates the trees lining the highway...
Today brought much new information to all of us. Some of this might be old stuff to some of you, but this time, it was personal. I had scant knowledge of the lives of Bedouins inside Israel. I knew their lives were hard, but had no idea how bad it has become. Our Bedouin guide noted "the Nakba was not a single historical event. It is a process, and it continues."
It is Ethnic Cleansing.
Accompanied by Israeli Amos Gvirtz, a passionate anti-Zionist Jewish Israeli who has worked for years for Bedouin rights, and Ataya (no last name given), a Bedouin man, we went to the Negev to visit with Bedouins, to see their demolished homes and a soon to be demolished 500-person village of Al-Arakib - the whole goddamn village. Amos said that one of the Bedouin villages nearby has been destroyed 40 - yes 40 - times.
First, some context: Bedouins have lived in this area for generations, and many had become agricultural people in the last century. More than 90,000 were forced out in 1967, and fled to the West Bank and Jordan. Many stayed in their homes in the Negev. They have deeds in their family names that go back to the Ottoman Empire, but Israel refuses to recognize their claims, and plans to move them into “towns”, “reservations” – sound familiar, Americans????
This area is INSIDE the Green Line - it's "Israel Proper" and these people are Israeli citizens, they even serve in the army, yet house demolitions and removals happen to non-Jews as they do in the West Bank. What today's experience showed me is that it is NOT sufficient to call only for an end to the Occupation, which is a common uniting concept. The cruelty and injustice of what is happening to Arab Israelis, particularly Bedouin, means that we must be sure to include End Apartheid in Israel in our calls, for how can we turn away from the theft of Arab land inside Israel and the deliberate torment meted out to non-Jewish people for the simple reason that they have something Jewish people want, or just are not Jewish?
Amos Gvirtz told us that Israel's ultimate intent is to get ALL of Israel into Israeli hands (right now they own only 96%),which most of us already understood, and they do that through expulsion and land confiscation. Gvirtz emphasized, over and over again, "this conflict is about land. It is about LAND. And nothing else." The depth of his knowledge and insights was quite impressive. See below this day’s narrative for more random notes from Amos.
Israel first forced Bedouin people into a large couple of areas in the Negev, putting them into "villages" that were not the homes of most of those forced into them. Many Bedouins already lived in settled villages in the general area, and had for up to 120 years. They then deemed those villages "unrecognized" or "unregistered", which meant the state would provide them with no water, no electricity, no roads, no schools, none of the ordinary infrastructure of a population center. Most of the houses are made of scrap metal, though there are a few quite substantial houses. Israel's current policy now calls for those in the villages to move again, this time into "towns", which do get a poor version of an infrastructure.
Why? Because the villages were strung out over a fairly large area, but towns (artificially developed) concentrate those people and free up all that other land for state ownership, that is, for Jewish-only use. People who wish to stay on land where they have planted olive trees and made homes and community for themselves are now being forced out.
Israel plants olive groves on confiscated land (did I tell you that there is very rarely any compensation for the land stolen from them, and if it comes, it is worth "two cigar boxes" as one Bedouin man explained) in order to keep Bedouins from coming back to their land. It becomes “currently used agricultural land” and will remain in state hands, probably given to a Jewish family to settle eventually. Ataya said the Bedouin’s way of life has been destroyed by the State, and 2 million dunams (a dunam = a little less than ¼ acre) of intensely cultivated land has been taken away from them.
They receive eviction orders that require them to either leave or be removed by the military. They receive no compensation, no alternative. They may or may not be able to keep their animals or the contents of their homes, as every expulsion is different and very arbitrary. They are given no other place to go - just "out of here". The village representative said to us "I can go sleep under a tree, but what about these children?" The people live in a constant state of fear of losing their homes.
AND YET, these people who are imploring us to intervene with Obama (....) to help them stop this agony, invite us to sit with them, bring us cold water, then sweet (and I do mean sweet!) tea, and usually fruit to eat - peaches, plums, cactus pears. They know we are mostly Americans and know whose funding makes their suffering possible, yet they greet us as allies, as friends. We've looked into their eyes, we spoke with them, they fed us, and we know they will have no homes in two weeks.
We also went to the “unrecognized” of Abu Klun (sp?) [3500 people]to talk with Mustafa Chamaise, a young Bedouin man who was slated to wed in 2 weeks, but whose house was demolished last week. Amos said the Israelis tend to wait for an event like that and demolish houses just before those events. AND Palestinians not only have to figure out how and where to live after they lose their homes, but they also have to pay for the demolition of their homes (you see what I mean about all the cruel inhumanities at every turn?). They are billed by the government and will be fined and/or imprisoned if they don't pay it. At the same time, they are still indebted to the family members from whom they borrowed the money to build in the first place.
At both Abu Klun and Al Arakib, we were welcomed with generosity. In Abu Klun, we gathered first with Atiya in a community building, where we were given first cold water (they have generators), then cold sabra (cactus pears), then sweet (SWEET!) tea, then in a large tent, where we received more water and tea. In Al Arakib, we gathered first in a large open-sided community structure and were given cold water while the spokesman, Sheikh Sayah, told us what was about to befall their village.
Later, in the residential part of the village, we were invited to the headman’s house, the owner of a factory who had a warehouse of goods there at Al Arakib. I was unable to navigate a long, steep hill, and could not go. Peggy and Dick both remained with me (will always feel badly about that – didn’t realize till later that they both stayed back with me because I couldn’t go). The three of us spent the next hour or so in what appeared to be the next most prosperous home, a young couple whose 8-month old baby I was able to hold for more than ½ hour.
There was all that Amos told us in the bus, much of it new information. Hope I can capture it all later from my notes.
Oh, Bart asked whether non-violence was holding. It is holding, though I cannot for the life of me understand why or how. If I were in their shoes... And this is the general sense of my group - all pacifists, and all unable to understand why there isn't massive violence from Palestinians. But they are so very tired of fighting, mostly alone, almost always futile, at such great cost.
Thank you to those of you who've sent well received words of encouragement. I hold onto those, and with these rather amazing CPT people I'm with, it makes it easier to deal with what we see and hear. One of these days maybe I'll have time to tell you about who they are (two Canadians and the rest American).
Random notes from Amos’s talk during the bus ride to the Negev, not captured in the narrative above:
- when I expressed my shock at hearing about the entire village about to be demolished, Amos said to me, "yes. welcome to Israel".
- He kept repeating "the aim of the Zionist movement from the beginning was to take this land for Jews only. One people took another people's land - this is the essence of the conflict”.
- 80% of the water in the West Bank goes to Jews.
- 88 Bedouin villages were destroyed in the Negev in 1948, and 50 more North of the Negev.
- 90% of Bedouins were forced out in 1948.
- About 150-180,000 Bedouin people live in Israel, who were settled into villages for generations before being forced by the state into only certain villages, and now, into a few towns, as related in an earlier post.
- Some of the towns have managed to get elementary schools, because Israel has a law that requires that children be educated in schools. Some have taken the state to court, and the Supreme court continues to rule that the state must provide an elementary school. So it does, though it can sometimes take up to 10 years to get one small school built because the state delays year after year while at the same time being able to say "we're doing it, we're doing it."
- Golan Heights in Syria – majority of Syrians were expelled in ’67. Today, only 5 villages remain, total 22,000 Syrians, with 20,000 Jewish settlers now on more than 80% of the land of the Heights.
- Theft of land, theft of water, demolition of homes and crops are acts of war against Palestinians, but experienced as bureaucratic procedure by Israelis.
- All land expropriation was done by force, a violation of international law and basic human rights, as are:
- expropriation of land
- demolition of homes
- theft of water
- establishment of settlements
- deportation of people from their homeland
- After the Bedouins were forced into villages within the SIAG (Restricted) Zone, they needed a permit to leave it. They could not travel freely.
- The highest rate of unemployment in Israel is in the new Bedouin “towns”.
- The people who live in “unregistered” villages (but within Israel proper) cannot vote, in this “only democracy in the Middle East”.
- Can you imagine exits from Spokane being reduced to two, and having to have a permit to leave no matter where you're going or how long you will be out? That is the Bedouin experience in the towns.
- Can you imagine being forced to move to another town for no reason that made any sense to you, or because you weren’t the “right kind” of people who would be allowed to live there?
- Can you imagine being forced out of the home your family has lived in for generations, and not being given one penny for it?
- Can you imagine having nowhere to go after you're turned out of your home, perhaps with infants and small children?
- If you substitute "Jew" for every mention of "Arab" or "Palestinian" in this narrative, would it be easier to see how profoundly racist it is here? How a state for only one kind of people is no longer acceptable on this planet?
- Jews do not need a building permit (note- double check this statement), and have no problem building their homes. Arabs have a "legal right", but rarely, if ever, are able to obtain a permit, both inside and outside Israel proper. It's very expensive and can take years, and at the end of the process, after they have spent $2,000 to $15,000 in this poverty stricken population, learn they have been denied and their money is not returned to them.
- Because living 30 people to a house is so difficult and there are no empty houses they can move into, they must build, with or without a permit.
- If you think about these horrors being conducted by Jews, for Jews, in the name of all Jews, does it make it easier to understand an anger against Jews? And I am constantly amazed, as I listen to Palestinian people talk about their lives, how little anger is directed at the people who have destroyed their lives, but rather at the State. If we are going to object to racism against Jews, which we must, the very best we could do would be to call for one independent state, so all live in some measure of equality, so no one group commits horrors for the benefit of their own group.
11:30 p.m. - gotta quit and go to bed. Bethlehem tomorrow.
From our CPT report on this visit:
“Our Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation sits under the roof in Al Arakib village with a Bedouin family in the Negev Desert, Israel. The men and younger boys offer us seats on beautifully ornamented mats and bring cups of refreshing water and hot tea, then coffee, dates and grapes. Though we finish eating, the hospitality is repeatedly bestowed. The kindness and generosity are deeply moving. We sit with the sobering knowledge that possibly by August 15 this village will be no more.
Imagine knowing that in two weeks, your home will be destroyed. The threat does not come from a tornado, or from a hurricane, or any natural disaster. The notice of destruction comes in the form of systematic, bureaucratic oppression from governmental powers.
Over 190,000 Bedouins are currently living in the Negev. Fifty percent live in townships that were created by the government in the 1960s in effort to remove the traditionally agricultural people from ancestral lands and to relocate tribes into small, contained communities in order to transfer ownership to the State. Some of the land is given to Jewish families for farming; some simply reverts to State possession.
A young man named Mustafa Chamaise told us that last week police came to the house where he was living, the house where he would bring his new bride in two days. Mustafa was given 30 days notice to leave his house before it would be destroyed. Two weeks later the army arrived with a demolition order. There was some resistance, and his friend was shot with a rubber bullet and taken to prison. Today, what remains is a pile of rubble. Mustafa is one of the many thousands of Bedouins and tens of thousands of Palestinians who have had their homes systematically destroyed by the Israeli government. This is part of a larger process of harassment and oppression designed to force certain ethnic minorities to leave Israel.”
Day 4 some more - and a little easier - but only a little
First, some of the more fun stuff: our group -there's so much more to each of these folks, but, in a nutshell:
- Steve, a Mennonite pastor from Ft. Collins, our team leader. A kind and loving man who makes sure everyone has what they need and is doing all right - and a million other things. He did a wonderful job of putting this delegation together.
- Kathy, a Mennonite pastor from Kansas, late from Ann Arbor - lively, fun, outraged, eager to do and see one more thing.
- Dick - a former career policeman whose path to faith is very moving. Also a Mennonite pastor, a gentle man, easy to be with and who laughs easily.
- Ryan - a young student with an engineering background. Bright, easy to talk with, and engaged to Hope (next). Also a gentle man. Always ready to share valuable nuggets of information about many things, and to help where he sees the need.
- Hope - bright, lively, both she and Ryan deeply religious and at the same time very worldly. Their politics are closest to my own. They're serious world travelers, and have been in Bethlehem doing work with their groups. She just asked me if I had a safety pin. When I gave her one, she said "I knew a Mama would have one." Sweet. She’s a veritable “child-magnet” – loves them, and they love her.
- Eric - a Nazarene pastor - young man, lively, sort of iconoclastic in faith terms. I think he challenges some of the folks in some aspsects of their faith. A wonderful and easy laugh.
- Tomasz - the other young Canadian - quite personable, fastest talker on the entire planet. Very religious - evangelical, but I'm not sure which denomination. Earnest young man, very easy to be with. After this, going for three weeks with ISM.
- Jonathan, young fellow from Ohio, Mennonite, spent time in Northern Ireland, his mother is Palestinian, sister to Jonathan and Daoud Kuttab. Deeply moved by what he’s learning – not that all aren’t, but he’s personally affected.
- John from Chicago, married to Peggy - a Lutheran pastor whose understanding of power and empire also is much like my own. Also a gentle man and easy to talk with.
- Peggy from Chicago, married to John. A teacher who has been deeply pained by what she has seen - not that we all haven't, but she is having the more visible difficulty in processing it. Very sharp.
- Marie - young Canadian woman from Winnipeg. She's the other one besides myself who does not come out of faith. Studying for a Human Rights degree in college.
My dilemma as I write is when to stop talking about the awfulness I'm seeing and when to lighten it up - when to tell you about these really lovely people I'm with, when to emphasize the hospitality with which we have been greeted by Arab families and organizations everywhere we have gone.
- The difficulty of using "end the occupation" as a uniting thread is that the continuing tragedy of the Bedouins has nothing to do with the Occupation, and everything to do with the fact that this is a state for Jews only. It is Apartheid.
- Some in the group are going to Yad Vashem, some are not (some were concerned about how much it costs and opted out). I am not going. I've been to the museum in D.C., to Dachau, and was steeped in Holocaust literature through my young years. At this point, I prefer to look to who IS a victim of corrupt power, not who WAS a victim.