Thursday, February 24, 2011

In Israel, the revolution has already begun, by Bradley Burston, Ha'aretz

Ha'aretz columnist Bradley Burston sees our struggle for human rights for the Bedouin of Al-Arakib as one of the signs of the emerging democratic revolution in Israel.

People often ask why, at a time when revolutionary fervor has seized nation after nation here in the Middle East, no revolt has yet begun in my country.

Actually, it has. Right under the government's nose.

From the outside, it may well appear that nothing has changed: a small but strategic principality which has been ruled for decades by a self-declared aristocracy, few in number, fierce in influence, fundamentalist in outlook, increasingly non-democratic in governance.

Although technically and by blood one of the princes, the nominal prime minister is, in essence, a figurehead. Under pressure from the West to extend self-determination to minority regions, he knows that were he to agree to renounce sovereignty over these areas, he would be risking a bullet to his back.

For a while, the prime minister speaks of reforms, of a U.S.-backed vision of independence for the minority regions. But only for a while. Mindful of the well-armed 4 percent of the population which so often calls the shots for the other 96, he even risks the close relationship with the United States for the sake of the aristocracy, which lives in army-guarded estates away from view, beyond the borders of the general population.

The reforms fade as he speaks of the dark designs of regional foes, while his guileful chief coalition partner, the burly, corruption-shadowed grand vizier, a rival for the political affection of the aristocracy, exploits long-simmering hatreds to push for a broad range of curbs on democratic freedoms.

Yes, to the outside world, the button-down fa├žade of stability seems assured. The country's general population supports major reforms, but has been traumatized into paralysis by years of bloodshed and a sclerotic political system dominated by corrupt, theocratic and rigidly conservative interest groups.

Outside of the established political mechanisms, however, a revolution is underway. Here, of all places. In the modern principality of the Jewish People. In Israel.

Over the years, the settlement aristocracy – the plaid-flannel power behind the throne - has aged, losing political steam and internal direction, as its own youth have begun to question its ideology of divine right to land and rule.

Here, now, on this side of the recognized border, a potent opposition is emerging, young, largely unknown, social network-savvy.

This revolution, like that of the settlers decades ago, has the potential of transforming both Israel and Judaism as a whole.

That is why the anti-compromise, pro-settlement right correctly sees NGOs, human rights organizations, and their pro-social justice supporters abroad, as the most pressing and immediate of threats. This is where the right is investing its legislative energy. But it is not the future of a democratic and Jewish Israel that these activists threaten. It is the dominance of the emirate archipelago of the settlements that they truly endanger.

The activists have a secret that the government has been thus far unable to combat. They have discovered a way to bring the bloated giants that run government institutions, to their knees:

Hidden from view by the giants' bulk, they locate sores and bunions and gout on the giants' overtaxed feet, and then, simply, stomp.

They find specific, vulnerable, potentially painful lesions, and they press down. And it works. The giant finds itself incapacitated.

The targets: some of the country's most powerful giants. Two examples among many:
1. Sheikh Jarrah, the dinky, makeshift, brilliant demonstration that materializes every Friday afternoon in East Jerusalem and which has bedeviled the settlement movement, Jerusalem's defiantly pro-settlement Mayor Nir Barkat, and the even more defiant, even more pro-settlement Jerusalem Regional Planning Commission.

2. El Araqib, the tiny Negev Bedouin village which the Jewish National Fund, aided by the Israel Lands Authority and more than a thousand police, have repeatedly demolished – 18 times at last count - in order to clear the way for a generous (to the JNF) Evangelical Christian group's God TV Forest. The Bedouin residents, supported by human rights activists and other NGOs, have returned to rebuild every time the JNF and ILA heavy machinery has rolled in to flatten their village.

This is what a revolution sounds like: The princes are in disarray. Some of the blood princes and princesses, like Tzipi Livni and Dan Meridor, heirs to commanders of the pre-state Irgun militia, now openly believe in and are working for a two-state solution, an independent Palestine alongside Israel, a major Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Everywhere you look, if you look close, change is in the wind.

The very activists whom pro-occupation Israel sees as its worst enemies – Peace Now, the many grant recipients of the New Israel Fund such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, as well as a host of independent groups, are gumming up the works of occupation simply by shining light on it.

British novelist Ian McEwan, accepting on Sunday the Jerusalem Prize for Literature, spoke of "the continued evictions and demolitions, and relentless purchases of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the process of right of return granted to Jews but not Arabs."

He also marked the occasion by donating $10,000 to an important NGO, Combatants for Peace, an organization, his website noted, "that brings together Israeli ex-soldiers and Palestinian ex-fighters. These ex-combatants go about in pairs, talking in public to make the case that there can be no military solution to the conflict."

Just as the settlement revolution has long energized and been supported by Jewish groups abroad, this new revolution for a socially just Israel has already brought change and new energy to the largest of Diaspora communities.

Although effectively boycotted by Israel's American-born Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, and by the recent General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, J Street's 2011 Conference (February 26-March 1) seems likely to live up to its billing of its "largest-ever gathering of pro-Israel pro-peace activists."

On March 14, across the States in Berkeley, Tikkun Magazine, which has no hesitation in describing itself as "strongly pro-Israel" alongside a progressive, critical perspective, will be marking its 25th anniversary. Among the honorees that night will be Judge Richard Goldstone.

This revolution has only begun, but it is gaining traction by the day. Over the past several days alone, it has been bolstered by the appointment of Israel's first openly gay judge, a disastrous setback for settler-driven McCarthyite legislation, and a grind to a halt for construction in the flashpoint settlement of Har Homa.

This revolution has only now begun. It will be waged in cyberspace and in city streets, in occupied areas and in Israel proper, in American synagogues and, in the end, the entire Jewish world. This revolution aims not only at the end of occupation, but at the beginning of a new Israel. Not for settlers, this time. For Israelis.

Help our us and our allies in Israel bring about the democratic revolution by making a tax-deductible gift to Rabbis for Human Rights Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel.

Go here to make your contribution to justice and equality for Jews and Arabs in Israel's Negev.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Call JNF and tell them: Stop planting forests on confiscated Bedouin land!

JNF-KKL bulldozer demolishing a Bedouin home in Al-Arakib - Feb. 9, 2011 (Credit: Negev Coexistence Forum)

1. First, watch the video below.

2. Then, scroll down to find the Jewish National Fund office near you as well as the national headquarters, and call to give them the message.

Stop planting forests on confiscated Bedouin land!

Sample call script: My name is ______ and I care deeply about Israel. I’m calling today to tell you how disturbed I am to see JNF bulldozers demolishing Bedouin homes and helping to wipe out the entire village of Al-Arakib in the Negev for a JNF forest. Please pass on my message to Russell Robinson and Ronald Lauder:

Stop planting JNF forests on confiscated Bedouin land. No more demolished homes! No more brutal expulsion of Bedouin families, or wiped out villages, for JNF forests! Tell the JNF leadership: stop sowing conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Negev! It’s time to change course and announce that JNF will no longer plant trees on the land of demolished Bedouin villages, or participate in their destruction.

Response to Objections:

If the JNF person starts changing the subject and talking about some other JNF project, tell them that whatever good the JNF may do elsewhere is far outweighed by its demolition of Bedouin homes and villages and its willingness to plant forests in places where Bedouin women, children and men are brutally expelled, shot at and beaten and their land confiscated.

3. Last, email us at and let us know how your call went.

Your feedback will be most valuable in planning the next steps in our campaign to persuade the JNF to do the right thing. Please copy and paste the following into your email and provide us with your responses:

First Name:
Last Name:
Zip/Postal Code:
Date of Call:
Which offices did you call?
Tell us about how your call went. What was the response?

JNF Phone numbers:

National Office 212-879-9300
(For international callers to the US, please add 001 before the number)
Jerusalem Office: 972-2-563-5638
Regional Offices:

West Coast, Central, and Northern Florida: (727) 536-5263 or (813) 960-5263
Tampa: (407) 804-5568
South Florida (561) 447-9733
Miami/Dade (800) 211-1502 or (561) 447-9733

Greater New York (212) 879-9300
Greater Los Angeles (323)964-1400

Baltimore/ Delaware: (410) 486-3317
Washington, DC (301) 589-8565

Chicagoland (847) 656-8880
Michigan (248)324-3080
Midwest States (Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) (888) 563-0099
Northern Ohio (216) 464-3888
Southern Ohio (513) 794-1300 or (888) 563-0099
Western Pennsylvania (412) 521-3200
Wisconsin (414) 963-8733

New England (617) 423-0999
Eastern Pennsylvania (215) 832-0690
New Jersey (973) 593-0095

Arizona (602) 277-4800
Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming & Utah (303) 573-7095
Northern California and Pacific Northwest (415) 677-9600 or (888) JNF-0099
Orange County, CA (949)-260-0400
San Diego (858) 824-9178
Palm Springs (760)864-6208
Las Vegas (702) 434-6505

South (404) 236-8990

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Evangelical TV channel turns the Negev into a forest and removes the Bedouin from Al-Arakib - Ha'aretz

Christian network `God TV` announces a planting project in cooperation with the Jewish National Fund. Villagers claim it is an effort to remove them.

`The Lord gave me instructions: `prepare the ground for the return of my children’. I asked: ‘Father, how do we do it?’ And the Lord answered ’plant a million trees.’ I believe this is what I heard, the spirit of God and I share this mission with you.” Rory Alec’s voice is excited and laden with pathos when he describes what led him to initiate the largest tree planting project, spearheaded by the `God TV` network, throughout Israel.

Alec is the driving force behind the thriving Evangelical network. The network carries out tree planting in cooperation with the Israeli branch of the Jewish National Fund and its US counterpart. The afforestation project is part of a broad plan encompassing large tracts of the northern Negev. It is not, strictly speaking, afforestation in the usual sense of the word, but more like “savannahfication” – the planting of trees and shrubs that would create the appearance of a savannah. The benefits of doing it this way, according to the JNF, include soil improvement and the prevention of erosion. However, the Israel Lands Administration and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, have admitted that one of the aims of the project is the taking possession of the land - that is, asserting ownership in order to keep the Bedouin out.

Some of the areas included in the project are near the Bedouin village of Al- Arakib, which was destroyed yesterday for the 16th time in eight months [Actually six and a half months–tr.] Israel Lands Administration (ILA) inspectors accompanied by police units came to the village to continue the forestation work, after the Beer Sheva Court ruled that work may continue taking place. There were confrontations when the residents started hurling stones at them and the police responded by firing tear gas. Six of the villagers - four women and two children - were injured and were evacuated to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. Three people were arrested. Haaretz has learnt that the village activists intend to stay over the weekend in situ to rebuild the encampments that were destroyed.

The JNF and the Israel Lands Administration insist that the forest, dubbed `God TV Forest` is not being planted on the ruins of the village. But the proximity to the village’s land has prompted a torrent of rage from the residents and the left-wing activists who have been supporting them. The Bedouins argue that the afforestation project in the northern Negev aims to goad them away from what they perceive as their traditional land. `The JNF, the most Jewish of Jewish bodies, of which my parents my grandparents were proud partners, has changed its skin and now collaborates with the most fundamentalist organisation for which we are the Messiah’s donkey,` says Professor Oren Yiftachel. The professor, a resident of the Negev and chairperson of B’Tselem, has been assisting the residents of Al - Arakib in their struggle with the state authorities against their homes’ demolitions.

Channel `God TV` was established in England in 1995 and was first of its type in Europe. Since then, “by the grace of God through miracles,` as its founders put it, the channel has expanded its activities to become an empire. “God TV transmits to almost every country around the globe with operations in the US, Europe, China, India, Australia and Africa. The channel’s 24-hours a day programs feature thunderous preachers who beat the foreheads of the faithful, wailing worshipers groups, animated calls for sexual purity among the young and kitschy missionary songs. The religious content is nicely packaged with rhythms and clips reminiscent of the source of inspiration - music channel MTV. The channel leads many social activities becoming a partner in various humanitarian ventures, particularly in Africa. In 2002, the channel revolutionised its image when it moved its offices and main base to Jerusalem, and now it brands itself as an enthusiastic supporter of Israel.

The planting project is one of its flagship ventures, the stated purpose of which is to prepare the country for the return of `Lord of lords, King of Kings,` as specified on its dedicated website. The site provides a facility to contribute to tree planting in the amount of US$25 or 20 Euros (about 90 to 100 shekels.) Incidentally it is possible to have the same tree planted by contributing a mere 32 shekels to the JNF. Considering the avowed desire to plant over a million trees, the discrepancy in price provides a measure of the financial clout of the organisation which provides it with a sound base.

Until about a fortnight ago a large outdoor board stood not far from Al-Arakib announcing the joint project of the TV channel and the JNF. The villagers see afforestation activities as part and parcel of the campaign against them. “These trees are the soldiers who came to occupy our land. These are political trees,” said Awad Abu Farih, a spokesperson for the residents of Al-Arakib. In contrast to the JNF and the ILA Administration, the villagers do not see any difference between the planting of the forest and the work that is being carried at the site of the village’s ruins. “These are exactly the same operations, they think that if there were trees here, then there would be no Bedouins here,` added Abu Farih.

God’s TV are aware of the criticism and are wary of it. The channel placed a note on its website stating: “God TV is in no way involved in any ongoing legal proceedings between the Israeli Government and the village of Al-Arakib. God TV has committed to sponsor one million trees, to be planted through the efforts of the Jewish National Fund, throughout Israel in an effort to restore the desert places to the lush green land it once was, preparing the Holy Land for the return of the King of Kings. God TV is not responsible for, or involved in, the decision as to the specific places trees are planted across the country.”

The JNF rejects the Bedouin claims, stating that the JNF is diligent in ensuring that no planting takes place anywhere outside state land. It says that the practice is adhered to in Al-Arakib. They stress that they cannot reject donations on the grounds of the identity of the donors. They add that any planting financed by donation takes place only in areas designated for the purpose in the national afforestation master plan. Therefore, the goal is afforestation and not the removal of the Bedouin. The JNF spokesperson said that 'The JNF plants trees all over the state of Israel, which is its role. However, any requests for planting are only acted upon once the JNF has verified that the proposed area is indeed legally state land. '

The Israel Lands Administration said that the JNF is only carrying out the work in Al-Arakib as a subcontractor, and that it was selected for the purpose because of its expertise in forestry work. As we go to press no response has been received from God’s TV.

By Nir Hasson, Haaretz, 11.2.11
Jackie Khoury and Yanir Yagna also contributed to this report
Reprinted from Occupation Magazine

Israel Demolishes El Araqib Village for 18th Time, Shoots and Detains Bedouin Residents

The Bedouin village of Al Araqib was attacked by Israeli forces and destroyed for the 18th time Thursday morning (17/2).

(Video shows previous Israeli destruction of El Araqib and attack of its residents on Feb. 10)

Israeli police, special forces, and riot police entered the village very early Thursday morning, before the residents had awakened. The police and Jewish National Fund, armed with bulldozers and weapons, destroyed the few buildings that were constructed Wednesday, following the 17th demolition, and surrounded the cemetery where the residents of Al Araqib were sleeping, so they were not able to get out.

While the residents were barricaded inside, the Jewish National Fund again worked on preparing the land for the planting of God TV’s “Peace Forest.”

In the later hours of the morning, around 100 residents of the nearby Bedouin city Rahat, some formerly of Al Araqib, arrived at the village to show support and solidarity.

Israeli forces, however, blocked them from entering. The men and women sat on the road, waiting for admission to the cemetery to spend time with their friends and relatives.

While plain clothes Israeli police officers were negotiating with the visitors from Rahat, the riot police decided that they needed to leave and began shooting men, women and children with rubber bullets.

Because the people were blocked from entered the village, they were forced to flee on the road. The police chased after them for around two kilometers, at shot tear gas at them. Seven people were arrested, two of them underage. One of those arrested is Dr. Awad Abu Frieh, the Al Araqib village spokesperson.

During this time the highway, Route 40, was blocked by the police in both directions. Once the people from Rahat had left, and the police were finished making arrests, the JNF continued working.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces arrived in the early hours of the morning and shot at the residents with rubber bullets and paint ball guns. When the first round of shooting subsided, the special forces pushed people from their homes and began demolishing the village for the 17thtime.

The residents of Al Araqib have barricaded themselves inside the village cemetery for protection and to prevent the destruction of the historic burial ground as well. Yesterday, all of the exits to the cemetery were closed by Israeli forces, and JNF bulldozers spent much of the day circling the site.

This Friday, 18 February, at noon there will be an inter-religious prayer in Al Araqib. Muslims and Jews will pray alongside each other and afterwards will stand together and speak of how our common religious traditions reject the violation of El Araqib residents' rights.

Those interested in participating can contact Rabbis for Human Rights at +972.2.648.275. There will also be organized transportation from Jerusalem and if needed, from Tel Aviv.

Thursday, 17 February 2011 11:35 Tania Kepler for the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Al-Arakib villagers tried to halt bulldozers at cemetery gate with their bare hands, injured and hospitalized children

After Israel Land Administration and Jewish National Fund bulldozers destroyed the dwellings in the Negev Bedouin village of Al-Arakib today for the 17th time, a JNF bulldozer approached the gate of the cemetery attempting to run it down. This was too much for the villagers, who are sitting in their community's cemetery, watching as their village is once more demolished.

As the bulldozer approached the gate, people went to stop it with their bare hands. Several are injured, including children. They are being evacuated at this moment by ambulances to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva. Police are also firing rubber and paint bullets at the village residents in the cemetery.

The bulldozer has backed away from the gate, and the police and bulldozers are now a few yards away from the cemetery, re-thinking their next move. Until today, the cemetery was a red line that the government and the JNF did not cross. Now even that red line has been crossed. Human rights activists report that the special police units are shooting into the cemetery area, sowing fear and seeking to provoke people to retaliate, an excuse to break in. Meanwhile, bulldozers are obstructing the exit from the cemetery in the direction of the village.

6:30 am EST update: Israel Radio Reshet Bet reports that at least 5 Bedouin residents and a photography student have been injured; two of the injured have been evacuated by ambulance to Soroka Hospital; the others say they are afraid to be taken to the hospital for fear that they will be arrested (and barred from returning to their village) after being treated.

4 am EST: About 40 Yassam riot police are present in the village. As we had had a few days reprieve since the last demolition, there were about 15 tents that had been built in the village since Thursday. The ILA bulldozers are now tearing these down and the JNF bulldozers are continuing their work to prepare the ground and shoving the ruined structures aside. All of the residents (including the children who have not yet left for school) are holed up in the cemetery.

(This from various reports in Hebrew & English from our friends in the Negev: Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality; Yeela Ra'anan of Shatil, and the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages; Gadi Algazi/Tarabut, and Israel Radio Reshet Bet. Photo above shows cemetery gate on Jan. 10, 2011.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Women, Children of Bedouin Village Al-Araqib Beaten & Hospitalized as they Silently Protest 16th Demolition of their Homes

Women and children of the Bedouin village of Al Araqib were beaten and tear gassed by Israel forces Thursday morning (Feb. 10), in an attempt to halt the 16th demolition of their homes and property.

Israeli forces and Jewish National Fund workers entered the Bedouin village and again destroyed the residents homes, and continued preparing the land for the planting of a “peace forest”.

When residents and activists attempted to halt their work, JNF workers and Israeli police fought back with force. The men in the village were held or detained while the women and children stood before the police and bulldozers and did not allow them to pass, all the while waving their Israeli identification cards as an expression of their trampled civil rights. The police attacked them with punches and tear gas.

Six residents, four women and two children, were hospitalized at the Soroka hospital in Beer Sheva. Later in the day, two of the women remained hospitalized.

“The police harshly beat the women and children who were standing in quiet protest, they simply beat women and children…I stood alongside a woman who was beaten by four police officers, actual fists in her face, ears and neck, in addition to kicks until she almost lost consciousness…people are sitting on the ground, in the rain, and not moving, women and children. The police shot stun grenades and foam bullets directly at the women, at point blank,” reported Tamar, an activist who was present in the village.

Three residents were also arrested, including a sixteen year old, and two Israeli activists are being detained at the local police station.

“They were detentions with no legal basis. The people were arbitrarily detained…these are intentional detentions, the goal of which is to break the residents of the village and the activists who come to support them…the police are collaborating with the Jewish National Fund (JNF),” said Attorney Salem Abu Madia’am.

Al Araqib was destroyed for the 14th time earlier this week (8/2), as part of the aggressive JNF and Israel Land Authority attempt to claim their historic land and use it for forestation and future Jewish settlement.

In recent months the JNF and the Israel Land Authority (ILA) have been working to “encourage” the remaining nomadic Bedouin communities to settle in cities and stay off the land. The encouragement has come in the form of regular demolitions of Bedouin villages.

Excerpted from Tania Kepler for the Alternative Information Center

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A JNF Drive to Make the Desert Bloom Means Destruction for a Bedouin Village, Forward

A JNF Drive To Make the Desert Bloom Means Destruction for a Bedouin Village
Israeli Bulldozers Have Demolished the Homes in Al-Arakib 14 Times, But Residents Keep Returning
February 18, 2011.

Jerusalem — In American Jewish memory, the Jewish National Fund’s historic blue pushkes, or charity boxes, evoke warm images of hard-earned pennies given to the group’s mission of redeeming the Land of Israel through planting trees. But to the Bedouin of Al-Arakib, a village in the Negev, the group’s current forestation plans mean the destruction of their homes and what they say is the theft of land they have owned since the beginning of the 20th century.

The village, until last summer a modest gathering of 45 homes in the desert, five miles north of Beersheba, was first demolished by the tractors and bulldozers of the Israel Land Administration, a government agency, last July, to lay the groundwork for the JNF forestation project. But the villagers have returned repeatedly to rebuild ramshackle structures symbolizing their claim to own the land, only to see the tractors and bulldozers return to destroy them again in what is now a cycle attracting international attention.

The latest demolition, on February 8, marked the 14th time that the government sent its equipment to destroy the rebuilt structures.

JNF in Israel has declined to comment on the project. But Haia Noach, a Jewish Beersheba resident who chairs the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, strongly criticized the group. “The planned forest is a means, a technique, to Judaize the area,” he said.

Noach and about 80 others demonstrated outside JNF’s Jerusalem headquarters February 1 to protest what they consider the organization’s darker side. Land in the Negev desert should be used for “housing and education” and not for “racist forestation,” chanted the crowd, which comprised Jews and Arabs.

A week earlier, a coalition of seven American Jewish and 10 Israeli not-for-profit organizations issued a statement condemning the charity. The not-for-profits’ statement — signed in the United States by the Jewish Alliance for Change, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, the Tikkun Community’s Network of Spiritual Progressives and the Shalom Center — called on supporters of JNF worldwide to pressure the charity to suspend the project.

JNF “must no longer serve as an accomplice to the discriminatory policy” of evicting Bedouins, the organizations declared in an online petition that had garnered more than 3,000 signatures at press time. Another petition, targeting Israel’s political leaders, had received almost 4,500 signatures.

But there is some dissent on the issue in JNF’s American affiliate. Seth Morrison, a board member of JNF in the Washington metropolitan area, wrote in a Jerusalem Post op-ed that Israel should cancel all policies that lead to the eviction of Bedouins. Morrison urged JNF to refuse to plant on land that Bedouins claim.

“In addition to the moral dilemmas these policies create, they cannot possibly serve Israel’s own best interests,” Morrison wrote.

It’s not the first time the charity has found itself enmeshed in controversy over land acquisition practices that critics say besmirch its historic reputation as a redeemer of the land. JNF, whose charter specifies it may lease lands under its control only to Jews, was involved in the confiscation of properties from Arabs in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan in the late 1990s. Many of the Arab residents contested JNF’s claims that they lacked proper title to the homes in which they were living, or that the properties had been legally abandoned. But they lost in court, and JNF proceeded to lease out the tracts to the City of David Foundation, a not-for-profit better known by its Hebrew name Elad.

Arik Ascherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights and a vocal supporter of Al-Arakib, told the Forward that while he has “admiration” for some of the JNF’s role in state building and some of its current work, it is time for it to change its position on the so-called redeeming of land. “The JNF has to just say ‘no — we have moral and ecological red lines,’” he said. Ascherman wants the charity to refrain from working on lands where Arabs claim historical rights.

For its part, the ILA, which is implementing the demolitions, insists that the land the Bedouin villagers claim was never privately owned. “This is state land (‘mawat’) according to Ottoman law, which was adopted by the British Mandate and absorbed into the laws of the State of Israel,” it said in a statement in response to questions from the Forward.

The ILA also stated that the land where Al-Arakib stood fell within a 25,000 acre expanse of the Negev that was declared state land in 1954 “as part of extensive expropriations that were implemented for development, settlement and security purposes.” Any parts of this land that were privately owned became state property, and any parts that were already state property under British or Ottoman rule had their status confirmed under the law of the new Jewish state, the ILA added. In view of this, the ILA argues, any discussions about who owned the land before 1954 are academic — the only important fact is that its state-ownership was reconfirmed in this year. As far as the ILA is concerned, sympathy toward the villagers stems from “propaganda aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s government and legal system.”

Both the ILA and the villagers agree that all structures in this dispute were erected without the necessary building permits. These are difficult for the Bedouin to obtain because of planning processes that Israel’s Arab sector and the Israeli left claim are discriminatory — a charge the government denies. The lack of permits for the structures made them illegal. But this just made Al-Arakib one of about 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev that, as they don’t officially exist, don’t receive municipal services and can’t connect to the electricity grid or water carrier.

It is Israel’s claim to the land itself that underlies the right the state claims to destroy their homes, sparking the fury of the Bedouin — a group which unlike most other Arabs, sends many of its young men into the Israeli army, yet has seen huge tracts of its traditional holdings lost to Israeli expropriation over the course of the state’s history.

Sitting around a fire in a shack on the land in question a few hours before the demonstration against the JNF, some 20 Al-Arakib residents recalled that they had long been concerned as they watched three JNF-planted forests grow around their village. ILA tractors just demolished their structures for the 12th time, leaving only this shack and one other. All that was to be seen elsewhere were a few piles of rubble and flat desert sand.

The village sheik, Sayach Abu-Medirem, told the Forward that while his community does not have deeds for the land in question, it does have documents from the Ottoman era that show that its ancestors purchased the land from other Bedouins. In his view, by not honoring these, Israel undermines the legitimacy of some Jewish locales, whose patrons purchased land in similar deals in the early 20th century. “Kibbutzim — from whom did they buy their land? From Bedouins!” he asked. “So why do they have the protection of the law but we don’t?”

The Bedouins say that their families bought the land in 1906 and maintained a constant presence until 1953, when they left — but only because the military instructed them to. Abu-Medirem said that they were originally told to leave for six months, but were never officially allowed back.

While hardly any villagers lived in Al-Arakib after 1953, several continued to farm there. Then, about 10 years ago, while retaining the homes that they had since established elsewhere, the three clans from the village sent members to live there. They admit that this was a conscious attempt to reassert claim to the land and prevent forestation by the ILA and JNF, which they believed to be imminent. To the ILA, this demonstrates that the villagers are not dispossessed; they are perpetrators of a land grab.

The villagers’ attorney, Michael Sfard, dismisses this assertion as ridiculous. He says that the ILA should hold off on demolitions until several ownership cases he has brought to court are resolved. “Their message is that the court decision is a technicality — that they can treat the ground as if it is already in their authority,” he complained.

The ILA responded that even if the court rules that the villagers’ families owned the land before the 1950s, the appropriation to the state will stand, and they will receive only compensation, not the right to return. Thus, the agency said, there was no reason to hold off evicting them or asking JNF to start its work.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Meretz to JNF: Stop the racist policy at Al-Arakib!

The Meretz party this week condemned the actions of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet l'Yisrael) at the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Arakib, north of Beersheva, branding them a "racist policy, arising from a viewpoint that regards the Bedouin in the Negev as a nuisance, rather than as citizens with equal rights."
Meretz called for the recognition of al-Arakib and for the provision of basic infrastructure there, and demanded that the JNF immediately suspend its plans to plant a forest at al-Arakib that would deny the villagers any chance of return.

Since last July, the Meretz Executive noted, the homes in al-Arakib have been demolished more than ten times by the Israel Land Administration and the Israel Police - first the permanent houses, and since then the tents and temporary structures that the residents have continually rebuilt.

Over the last few weeks, the situation has deteriorated further: The police had begun to use clubs, rubber bullets and teargas during the demolitions, while making arrests of villagers and other activists. In addition, the JNF had begun to prepare the ground for the planting of a forest atop al-Arakib's ruins so that the village could not be rebuilt.

The District Court in Beerhseva issued a temporary injunction against the JNF's actions, and although the injunction was not extended, the judge recommended that the JNF not continue its work so as not to create irreversible facts on the ground. The JNF rejected the judge's recommendation, however.

In light of these developments, the Meretz Executive resolved as follows:

1. The Meretz Executive regards the demolition of the al-Arakib village as a racist policy, arising from a viewpoint that regards the Bedouin in the Negev as a nuisance, rather than as citizens with equal rights.
2. Both law and justice require that al-Arakib be recognized, and that infrastructure be provided there for the welfare of its residents.
3. The Meretz Executive condemns the conduct of the JNF, which insists on entering village land and planting trees where the houses of the residents once stood. It calls on the JNF to cease all its activities in the al-Arakib area.

Meretz representatives on the JNF directorate, Micha Drori and Radi Sfuri, have approached JNF officials, demanding that its operations at al-Arakib cease.

For the report in Hebrew, click here.

Reprinted from the Meretz USA website.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Open Letter to the Jewish National Fund - Just say no! by Rabbi Arik Ascherman (Jerusalem Post)

Don’t forest over the community when there are cases in court in which the Beduin are trying to prove their ownership of the land.

Over the past several months, a very cruel and one-sided battle has been raging in El-Arakib . Despite the several land ownership cases currently before the courts, encroaching JNF forests are poised at the edge of lands belonging to this “unrecognized” Beduin village in the Negev. (Part of the mere three percent of the Negev over which the Beduin claim ownership.) Since July, Israel Lands Authority (ILA) bulldozers have demolished El-Arakib nine times.

Nine times the residents of El Arakib have rebuilt simple shelters, frustrating plans to erase every trace of their homes and orchards. They have been beaten and arrested, along with Jewish supporters. Only the cemetery has remained untouched, a testimony to the generations that had lived there before the State of Israel existed.

Last month, the government decided that enough was enough. On January 16, Israel razed the village for the tenth time. With rubber bullets, numerous arrests and even more vicious beatings that left several people hospitalized, the ILA cleared away even the rubble from the previous demolitions to prepare the land for planting.Since the first demolition, twisted rubble has reached skyward, a monument of screaming agony. However, as soon as the bulldozers left, the determined residents and activists emerged from the graveyard where they had taken refuge and began to rebuild again. They were joined by large numbers of activists.

LIFE WAS never easy in El-Arakib, but the residents struggle to put up pitiful makeshift shelters, braving the stinging rain driven by a bitter wind whipping around the sheets of plastic they tried to nail into place.

Nobody would be surprised if these people decided to abandon their lands to the JNF forests who get ominously closer every time. I am sure that is what those who plan these violent attacks had expected, and what the ring of watching police wait for. However, we Israelis, who have so often accomplished the impossible because we knew that there was ein breira (no choice) should be the first to appreciate the quiet, desperate determination of the residents of El-Arakib.

Relief then came in the form of a tentative stop-work order from the court, but with a price. The state said that it incurs the expenses every time a demolition is prevented because it still has to pay those contracted in advance, and that it must be reimbursed if the court agrees to issue a stay that turns out to be frivolous. I understand the argument, but it essentially makes access to justice dependent on your wallet. Here, the justification for the stop work order seems neither frivolous nor trivial – don’t forest over the community when there are cases in court in which the Beduin are trying to prove their ownership of the land. Several days later, Beersheba District Court Judge Nechama Netzer canceled the order. However, she also said that the situation was unacceptable, and a solution must be found. She appealed to the JNF not to create facts on the ground by foresting over El-Arakib.

Incredibly, the very next day the ILA declared their intent to quickly finish preparing the land for planting and made good on their promise. The bulldozers quickly disposed of the shanties, proceeding to level everything to the ground I AM therefore appealing to the JNF yet one more time to fight for their soul. They have told me several times that they sees themselves as the forestry service for the state, and is therefore obligated to do what the state asks.

But there comes a point when you must just say no. It is true that our sages taught that “the law of the land is the law,” but they also drew red lines. The Shulchan Aruch determines that even a king, who has much more authority in the Jewish tradition than a government, cannot force people to violate the commandments of the Torah (Choshen Mishpat 369:11). Even the king – and certainly a body such as the JNF doing the bidding of a government – is not allowed to twist the law to allow the theft of a field. (Mishna Torah Laws of Theft and Loss 5:13, Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 369:8) We are taught not to honor unjust or unequally applied laws.

When laws discriminate against one group in favor of another “the law of the land is the law” does not apply, “and it is not applicable when there is no equality, taking from one and giving to another”(Beit HaBechira to Baba Kama 113a, etc.). “The law of the land is the law is not in force unless the king equally applies his statutes regarding all his subjects.” (Or Zaruah to Baba Kama 447, see also Tashbetz part 1: 158) THE TREATMENT of the Beduin minority is a classic case of double standards. Jewish citizens would be afforded every opportunity to remain on their land, or at least to have their day in court. The JNF is not obligated to participate in state discrimination.

Rather, the JNF must observe shev v’al taaseh, refrain from participating in discrimination and theft.

None of us want to believe that the state we love is using its power to ride rough shod over hapless fellow citizens and to take the kivsat ha’rash (literally, poor man’s stolen sheep) from those who have almost nothing. None of us want to believe that previous courts may have lent a hand to injustice. I am sure that this does not represent the values of many who work for or support the JNF.

However, if you don’t believe either me or the silent testimony of the El-Arakib cemetery, look into it for yourself.

Ask for the documents and come meet with the Beduin.

The JNF, with all of the wonderful work it does, sullies itself by collusion in such an inexcusable and unjustifiable act. Remember the Jewish and Zionist commitment in our Declaration of Independence to equality for all.

Please, just say no.

The writer is a human rights activist. Demonstrations are planned outside the JNF offices in Jerusalem today [Feb. 1, 2011] at 14:00pm and in El- Arakib.

Published in the Jerusalem Post