RAMALLAH (IPS) — A bruising battle of will is taking place between Israeli security forces and Palestinians recently made homeless after two Palestinian villages were razed, leaving hundreds homeless.
An Israeli Bedouin women speaks to a police officer in front of the ruins of a structure razed by authorities in the southern village of al-Arakib near the Bedouin town of Rahat August 10, 2010. Some 22 structures erected without proper permits were razed in the village by Israeli police and the Israel Land Authority (ILA) after a Supreme Court order, an ILA spokesperson said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Al-Araqib, a Bedouin village in Israel's Negev desert, was destroyed in a pre-dawn raid at the end of July to make way for a Jewish National Fund forest. The razing of the village was carried out despite pending legal action on land ownership that Al-Araqib residents have launched in the local Beer Sheva District Court.
During the destruction hundreds of Palestinians – including at least 200 children – were left homeless. At least 45 homes, chicken coops, animal pens, carob trees and fruit orchards were leveled, and about 800 olive trees uprooted. A protesting Arab-Israeli member of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) was amongst those injured.
The destruction of the village came two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a government meeting of the "threat" of losing Jewish majority in the Negev region. Bedouin constitute 25 percent of the population of the northern Negev, but occupy less than two percent of its land.
According to a media statement released by Human Rights Watch (HRW), "Israel has demolished thousands of Negev Bedouin homes since the 1970s and over 200 since 2009. The Land Administration also began spraying villagers' crops with herbicides in 2002 as a mechanism to cause evacuation, a practice deemed illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2007."
HRW says thousands of Bedouin were displaced following the establishment of Israel in 1948. In the 1950s and '60s, Israel passed laws enabling the government to lay claim to large areas of the Negev where the Bedouin had formerly owned or used land. Planning authorities ignored the existence of Bedouin villages when they created Israel's first master plan in the late 1960s.
The Negev Coexistence Forum, a Bedouin-rights group, said in a statement that Al-Araqib existed before the creation of Israel in 1948, and that residents returned there after being evicted by the state in 1951.
Tens of thousands of Bedouin live in "unrecognized" villages in the south of Israel. Israel considers them "illegal", and has refused to connect them to basic services and infrastructure.
However, Israeli authorities granted large tracts of land and public funds for Israeli Jews to establish ranches in the area, and connected them to national electric and water grids despite the absence of proper planning permits, according to Israeli rights group Adalah. The ranches were legalized a month ago.
"It is clear to us that this action by the Israeli government is politically motivated and systematic discrimination. Here we have a large group of Israeli-Arabs who want to be part of Israel and this is how they are treated. It appears the Israeli government is shooting itself in the foot and the consequences will be bad," Noga Malkin from HRW told IPS.
Last week clashes broke out again, and structures were destroyed when Israeli security forces dispersed Al-Araqib villagers and their supporters as they tried to rebuild the village.
Meanwhile, across the Green Line, the internationally recognized border between Israel proper and the occupied Palestinian West Bank, many Palestinians were recently made homeless. Israeli authorities declared the decades-old village Farasiya in the northern West Bank a closed military zone, and razed it.
In the middle of July, Israel's Civil Administration, which controls large swathes of the West Bank, demolished 55 structures, including animal shelters and agricultural buildings.
On Saturday, Farasiya villagers, accompanied by Israeli and international sympathizers, tried for the third time to rebuild the village after it had been leveled twice during the last month.
Farasiya falls within Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control. Under the 1993 Oslo Accords Area C, which comprises approximately 60 percent of the territory, was meant to be slowly handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Instead, Israel has been enlarging and establishing new Israeli settlements and expropriating Palestinian land for the benefit of Israeli settlers in the area in violation of international law and UN resolutions. Farasiya village was located near to five of the illegal settlements.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that more than a hundred structures in the Jordan Valley have been demolished in the last month.
"The spate of demolitions raises concerns over whether Israeli authorities could further escalate demolitions throughout Area C. More than 3,000 demolition orders handed down by Israeli officials to locals are still outstanding," says OCHA.
Residents from both villages, and their supporters, have vowed to return to the site of the destroyed villages and continue attempting to rebuild them, while the Israeli authorities have warned that they will take further action. "The recent plans of the government and the level of force used indicate longer and bigger clashes ahead," Malkin told IPS.