ILA razes dozens of homes in unrecognized Beduin village

Residents of Kafr al-Arakib in Negev vow to rebuild.

A Beduin woman and child 311 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A Beduin woman and child 311 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Residents of an unrecognized Beduin village in the Negev on Tuesday vowed to rebuild their homes, hours after they were demolished by the Israel Lands Administration.
Kafr al-Arakib resident Awar Abu Farich, 48, said that hundreds of police officers began surrounding the village at 2:30 a.m., and began to move in and evict residents around 5 a.m.
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Police used excessive force in evicting the residents from the dozens of structures slated for demolition, Abu Farich said.
“We will build our houses again and we will never leave. Our dream was to have a respected, recognized home, but the authorities won’t let us become official,” he said.
Abu Farich said that his family and many others in the village had lived there since before the founding of the state. He added that like many others in the village, he owned a house in the nearby Beduin city of Rahat, which he said he built so his children could attend school there.
The Gush Shalom NGO called the demolitions “an act of war” and said they left over 300 people, more than 200 of them children, homeless.
The organization took issue with the contention that the residents had no valid claim to the land, saying, “Residents of al- Arakib are neither squatters nor invaders: Their village existed many years before the creation of Israel in 1948. Residents were evicted by the state in 1951, but returned to the land on which they live and which they cultivate.”
Southern District police denied that they used excessive force, and added that they deployed nearly 1,300 officers to secure the demolitions and deter the use of violence by locals and protesters from outside the village.
“There wasn’t any excessive force. Police used as little force as possible and tried to use other means,” a spokeswoman for the Southern District police said. “The scene was relatively quiet and the use of force was proportionate and reasonable. Most of the people understood that it was not in their interest to use violence [against the officers].”
Six people were arrested during the demolitions.
Rahat Mayor Sheikh Faiz Abu Seheban called the demolitions “a dangerous precedent” that could lead to a serious degradation in relations between Beduin and the state.
“Today, the state took steps that caused serious harm to relations with its Beduin citizens,” Abu Seheban told The Jerusalem Post. “Destruction is not a solution; it will lead to the destruction of relations between Beduin and the state.”
Abu Seheban said there is great anger in Rahat over the demolitions and that the town will host a mass prayer session on Friday that will include Arab leaders from across the country as well as prominent left-wing activists.
The Israel Lands Administration issued a statement on Tuesday saying the demolitions came after “a legal and physical struggle that stretched over many years.”
Eleven cinderblock buildings and 34 made of tin were demolished, the ILA said.
Some 850 trees were removed and will be replanted elsewhere. The ILA said the uprooted trees had been planted by residents to strengthen their claim to the illegal settlement.
In the statement, the ILA said that residents first “invaded” the area in 1998, were soon evicted, and returned a year later.
The ILA said residents had been asked to rent the land for agricultural purposes for NIS 2 per dunam (0.1 hectare), but “they refused to pay and continued to infiltrate the land year after year.”
After an eviction notice was issued in 2003, the residents filed a petition that made its way to the High Court of Justice.
While the petition was being heard, the residents “continued to infiltrate and squat on state-owned land, and in fact expanded their infiltration through constructing illegal and unproved buildings, crudely trampling on the law,” the ILA said.
In 2007, the Beersheba Magistrates’s Court dismissed residents’ request for a delay in implementation of the eviction orders and ruled that residents were “infiltrators repeatedly seizing state land after being evicted.”
There are tens of thousands of illegal structures in Beduin communities in the country, and several thousand more are built each year; far more than the number the state manages to demolish. Many of these settlements lack basic services, with residents living “off the grid” and not paying municipal taxes.