Police, Beduins pledge to maintain ties despite demolitions

Traditionally good relations tested by repeated razing of village.

Danino 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Danino 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Southern District police chief Cmdr. Yochanan Danino and about a dozen Beduin leaders held a goodwill meeting in Beersheba’s police station on Thursday and pledged to maintain strong ties despite growing tensions over state demolitions of Beduin structures near Rahat in recent weeks.
The meeting was also attended by Danino’s Beduin affairs adviser, Ch.-Insp. Shalom Ben- Tzalman – a fluent Arabic speaker, and Negev police subdistrict head Lt.-Cmdr. Avshalom Peled.
For the fourth time in less than four weeks, illegally built structures in the unrecognized Beduin village of Kafr al-Arakib were demolished this week by staffers from the Israel Lands Administration escorted by police. The demolitions follow a High Court of Justice decision that the structures should be demolished, following a legal dispute which lasted for almost a decade.
Relations between the police in the South and the 200,000- strong Beduin community have traditionally been good.
Danino said he was opposed in general to demolition of Beduin structures as a solution to the housing issue, and told the leaders he tried to influence authorities to cancel demolitions in cases that seemed likely to soon be resolved in the courts.
The Beduin leaders said they appreciated that Danino had called the meeting, and condemned fellow leaders who had chosen to boycott it. Police were the only state authority to hold regular meetings with them, they said, criticizing the central government for failing to keep up a dialogue. They warned that extremist forces were attempting enter their communities.
“The fact that we are sitting here together and discussing this says it all,” said Dr. Maera al-Tauri, former head of social services in Rahat. “We have no other country except this country.
We are for the country, not against it. But we want to proceed with honor.”
Former Rahat mayor Talal al- Kirnawi confirmed that relations with police are good, but added, “The atmosphere is bad.
We know you have to carry out the demolitions. You are not the problem. But where is the central government? They’re nowhere to be seen. Outside elements are exploiting their absence.” Kirnawi added, “The government must decide: Does it want to push the Beduin toward unwanted forces, or embrace this community. The Beduin community wants to talk. Demolitions during Ramadan, when we are fasting in the heat, and can barely talk, are out of line... We don’t want a media circus. We want to live in peace.”
Danino responded by saying that police had chosen a policy of not clearing structures during Ramadan, out of respect for the Beduin community, but that a small group had taken advantage of the policy to rebuild structures that were demolished just before the holiday started, in the hope that they would remain standing in the coming weeks.
“I won’t let outside forces take the Negev to the wrong place,” Danino said, referring to political elements from outside the area that have organized demonstrations.
Danino said he was disturbed by “distorted” media reports that portrayed police as anti-Beduin and by attempts by political forces to exploit the issue to increase tensions.
“The Beduin community is a law abiding community. After all the legal processes, the High Court decided to clear the land.
After we ensured that all the affected people had alternative homes in Rahat, the structures were destroyed,” Danino said. “I believe in dialogue, because I think demolitions are not a realistic solution. But when the High Court makes a ruling, we will carry it out.”
The police chief added that “the principal of rule of law is no less important than finding a solution to Beduin housing,
and we will act with determination against those who invade state lands.
“We won’t allow small group of lawbreakers to undermine a whole community... and to cynically exploit the Muslims’ holy holiday to disregard the rule of law and violate High Court decisions,” Danino said.