Hundreds of Arab-Bedouin protested on Monday morning, June 22, outside the regional administrative compound in Be’er-Sheva to denounce the far-right government’s policy of house demolitions and evacuation orders against unrecognized Arab villages in the Negev. The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel called for the demonstration and among the hundreds of participants were Hadash MKs Ayman Odeh, Ofer Cassif and Youssef Jabareen.
Former Hadash MK and head of the High Follow-Up Committee, Mohammad Barakeh, denounced plans by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Israel Land Authority (ILA) to plant hundreds of trees on lands from five Bedouin villages, most immediately Khirbet al-Watan, which have received demolition orders and are thus facing the displacement of thousands of residents “in the name of developing the area”; development for the benefit of Jewish citizens of the state.
During the protest, the Joint List leader MK Odeh stressed that the protest should aim at returning the land rights to the residents of Khirbet al-Watan. Almost 4,000 men, women and children live in this village that receives no municipal services, electricity or water and where they have repeatedly seen their homes and infrastructure demolished and lands confiscated.
Monday’s protest began at the protest tent that the residents of Khirbet al-Watan have erected in their village and from there the demonstrators trekked to the regional administrative compound Be’er-Sheba. The protesters carried signs and banners accusing the JNF and ILA of systematic discrimination against them because they are Arab-Bedouin, primarily by forcibly grabbing their land and displacing residents of what the government considers unrecognized villages. Among the slogans displayed were: “Our legitimate demands: recognition and ownership”; “No deportation, no displacement – We will not be forced from our lands”; and “We won’t bow down, our land is a legitimate right”.
MK Jabareen denounced the “ongoing expulsion, expropriation, destruction and demolition of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev”. Jabareen demanded “Enough with the language of force; these villages are legitimate and must be provided with legal recognition and protection,” and concluded by saying “Arab-Bedouin residents of the Negev deserve to live in dignity and equality. We are united in this just fight against dispossession and for recognition.”
While Israeli bulldozers have reportedly already razed at least 50 dunams (12.3 acres) of Khirbet al-Watan’s lands since May, the forestation plan to cover some 2,000 dunams (494 acres). Other villages threatened by the plan are al-Buqaya, al-Bat al-Gharbi, Oum Badoun and Ras al-Jarba, all of which are among the more than 45 Arab-Bedouin villages in the Negev unrecognized by the state of Israel. Around 240,000 Arabs live in villages and towns in the Negev. Some 76,000 of them – all Arab-Bedouin – live in unrecognized villages. Israel has repeatedly attempted to move Bedouin into “recognized” communities, repeatedly insisting that those living in unrecognized villages have no legally valid claim to the land.
Unrecognized villages are denied any infrastructure or support from the government. In fact, they don’t even appear on governmental maps. They are provided with no public transportation, have no roads and no schools, and state authorities refuse to confer with their local leadership. Residents say such policies are intended to achieve a single goal: to pressure them into being internally displaced despite their having lived on or near these lands prior to the founding the Zionist state in 1948.