Bedouins forced to destroy their own homes in the Negev

“Dogs live better than us": A new report reveals the systemic mechanisms used to force the Arab Bedouin population in the Negev to demolish their homes and move into towns.

Israeli policemen detain a protester during clashes in the Israeli-Arab town of Umm el-Fahm (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Israeli policemen detain a protester during clashes in the Israeli-Arab town of Umm el-Fahm
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

A new report published in July by the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, based on data from the Southern Administration, reveals a complex system of mechanisms employed by the government and its branches to force Bedouin citizens to demolish their homes and to evacuate into planned towns.

According to the report, the state has added tens of millions of shekels to security and enforcement forces, the establishment of far-reaching fines for "illegal construction" and grandiose national projects that will evacuate thousands of other buildings and tens of thousands of residents.

"The state continues to insist on treating its Arab-Bedouin residents as enemies rather than citizens with equal rights," the report said.

According to the Southern Administration's 2018 report, 2,326 structures belonging to the Bedouin community in the Negev were demolished: 88% of the structures were demolished by their owners after various pressures were imposed upon them, and 12% were demolished by one of the enforcement authorities.

The administration explains that people destroying their own homes is "the result of thorough and intensive field work, which shows that the deterrent dimension continues to exist, i.e., self-destruction, in order to prevent the arrival of inspectors with police force."

"People come with guns out, sit on the roofs of the cars and create a sense of fear and terror," testimonies indicate. Usually when demolitions occur, "the police will arrive early in the morning when only the women and children are at home."

The report also states that in the past two years, the Yoav Unit of the police has detained men and women in the unrecognized villages for questioning while opening criminal cases for building violations. In addition, in 2018, Simplex began operating in the Negev, providing advanced detection services for building irregularities using 3D imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles.

Subhiya Abu Jouda, in personal testimonies of residents of the unrecognized village of al-Za'arura, tells how she was forced to demolish the new house she had built for her son, after she had spent more than six years working as a cleaner to save up the money.

"The moment they came to destroy the house, they destroyed me," Jouda said. "They demolished the house and left it in front of my eyes like a mountain for a year and a half... I had no money to clean and collect the remains of the house and I had to go back to work hard to move what was left of my eyes."

The authors of the report claim that "many of the expropriation efforts are carried out under the guise of economic" development.

"The five-year plan for the development of Bedouin society (Government Resolution 2397), which the current government boasted about, serves as a major tool for the dispossession and exclusion of the residents of the unrecognized villages," the report stated.

"The state must stop the violent operation immediately," said Chaya Noah, director of the Negev Coexistence Forum. The government must "offer real solutions to the population that do not include forced urbanization, which has long proven to be a failure. The state must stop treating its citizens as enemies and ensure the full realization of their rights to housing, security, and living with dignity."

Yvette J. Deane translated this report.