Ellen Davidson is accompanying a delegation of U.S. military veterans in the West Bank. On Nov. 17, the delegation visited the Bedouin village of Al-Araqeeb. Below is the report from November 17. See reports from November 7, November 8, November 10, and November 15.
Israeli dispossession of Palestinians from their homes and land is not limited to the occupied territories. Inside the Israeli borders, Palestinians, particularly Bedouins, face home demolitions and forced removal from lands they have cultivated for centuries.
The village of Al-Araqeeb in the Negev is one well-known instance. In July 2010, 1,300 Israeli police invaded and demolished the village. Village residents, with the help of Israeli and international activists, promptly rebuilt the village, which was then re-demolished. To date, Al-Araqeeb has been demolished 62 times.
The Veterans Peace Team visited Al-Araqeeb on Sunday, November 17, for the weekly vigil. We were welcomed by village leader Aziz al-Toury and his father, Sheikh Sayeh al-Toury. After settling us in a tent with tea and dates, Aziz and his father spoke to us of the history of their village. The main thing that came through was their passion for their land and their way of life.
“We don’t care whether we are under the Israeli government or the British Mandate or the Ottomans or anybody,” said Aziz. “We don’t think about being a city or a country, we don’t want to be a different country. We are willing to be Israeli citizens because that’s where our land is. We want to feel free. We want to do our job. We want to dream. We like to conserve our land, we like to live. We like to make everybody welcome—to give them coffee, tea, to make another mix between my culture and your culture—maybe we can make another mixed culture together.”
He continued, “But the government is criminal, crazy, racist. It wants to kill the Arabs’ lives—our way of life. I am happy to work with people to make peace, to continue our life with your way, with my way, Here we had a beautiful, green country, but we have a bad, racist, criminal government.”
The Israeli government says the village was abandoned in the 1950s and therefore could be taken over by the Jewish National Fund, a quasi-governmental organization that administers state land, which is reserved for use exclusively by Jews. The agency has been instrumental in taking over Palestinian land within Israel and planting over demolished villages with national forests. The Israeli Land Administration claims the Bedouins illegally squatted in Al-Araqeeb beginning in the late 1990s. Village residents, however, say the village has been in existence continuously since the time of Ottoman rule.
Aziz’s father told us: “You cannot imagine how beautiful the agricultural village was here—it was always green, the best village in the world. It was here during the Ottoman and during the British Mandate, it was a village. From 1948 to 2010, there was an agricultural village here.”
“We know the U.S. government is supporting everything the Israeli government is doing, is supporting Israel pushing Arabs out, confiscating land,” the sheikh went on. “How long will the U.S. government continue supporting Israel as it pushes the Palestinians off the land? When will the people stand up and say ‘Stop’?”
In 1999, Aziz said, the Israeli government began to spray the area with the weedkiller Roundup: “It kills everything—not one person, ten people, 100 people—it kills hundreds of people’s lives and leaves them with nothing. I remember in 1999, at 4 pm, we were beginning to make fires, and then came four or five airplanes, and they began to spray. They flew very low—10 meters, four, five meters—and they sprayed everything. The house, the men, the sheep, the camels, the horses, everybody that was outside. And they sprayed us in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003—five years, they sprayed us year after year.” He related how his uncle got sick and died from being sprayed directly.
“Where are the human rights?” asked Aziz’s father. “They say they support the human rights of everyone in the world. Where is this now, to stop the Netanyahu government? Where are the world human rights supporters? We have been under the terrorist government’s heel from 1948 until now.”
As Aziz showed us around where the village used to be, his love of the land was evident. “Here were olive trees, here people grazed sheep. We had everything we needed. Here was a tree that shaded the [now demolished] house.” He sang as we walked along: “We will continue with a happy face, we cannot sit down and cry, ‘We are poor, we are bad,’” he said. “That’s the great victory,” Tarak Kauff of the VPT delegation told him. “That’s the victory they can’t take away. They can take away everything, but they can’t take that.”
Aziz pointed out the seedling trees planted by the Jewish National Fund, contrasting them with the stumps of olive trees razed by Israeli bulldozers. “This is my message: I ask everyone in the world, if they have a mind, and if they have a heart, and if they are feeling people, if they care about freedom, to stop supporting the JNF, because the JNF is killing me. Now, I feel every [JNF-planted] tree is like a soldier with an M16. The JNF has killed my history and uprooted my trees and is planting new history, new trees. It’s not normal to uproot trees when they are 74, 65, 73, 81, years old, to cut these trees, Arabs’ trees, and plant new trees. Please, stop this killing, with your money, anyone who supports the JNF. The JNF didn’t make the desert green. The JNF killed the Bedouins in the desert and planted trees. I ask all free people in the world to stop supporting the JNF. I want you to know you killed me. This is my message. Take it.”
Photos by Ellen Davidson.
Photo 1/feature image: Veterans Peace Team delegation participates in the weekly vigil in support of Al-Araqeeb village in the Negev.
Photo 2: Aziz Al-Toury serves tea to Veterans For Peace member Tarak Kauff.
Photo 3: Aziz Al-Toury’s daughter is named Araqeeb, because she was born on December 12, one of the dates on which the village was demolished.
Photo 4: Sheikh Sayeh Al-Toury: ‘Where are the human rights?’
Photo 5: Women lead the chants at the weekly vigil in Al-Araqeeb.
Photo 6: Aziz Al-Toury shows Veterans Peace Team delegation where his village used to be: ‘Here were olive trees. Here were sheep.’
Photo 7: Aziz Al-Toury shows how the olive trees are growing back after being bulldozed.
Photo 8: Reminiscing about his childhood in the village: Caption: ‘I remember in the afternoon the children made kites. We made them with our hands—with wood and paper.’
Photo 9: The sun sets behind members of Veterans For Peace as they conclude their visit to Al-Araqeeb.
First published at StopTheseWars.org.