Juma al-Turi and his family sat for hours yesterday looking with disbelief at the ruins of their unrecognized village of al-Arakib, north of Be'er Sheva. The houses, the storage building and the bird cage were all destroyed, and the olive trees uprooted.
The village was destroyed after government officials determined it was built illegally on state land. Israel Police forces destroyed about 35 buildings, said residents. Confrontations broke out between the police and residents, and in the end one woman was arrested and six people were detained. Over 1,500 police came to guard the demolition.
What really bothered al-Turi, though, was the degradation etched in his heart.
"I saw the smiles of the policemen and the inspectors who did it, they simply enjoyed it while the children were left without a home. They made victory signs with their hands after the destruction. It seems they were confused and were certain they were in Lebanon in the war against Hezbollah," he said.
Al-Turi, who made his living importing food for sale in the south, Egypt and Jordan, is among the village's more well-off denizens. To village residents he is a man of the world and a symbol of success. A large number of his friends are Jews who come every once in a while to his house in the village to eat and close deals.
Shai Shalom, a friend of al-Turi's, came yesterday to console him.
"I simply can not believe my eyes, they destroyed all his houses. It is sad, I don't know why they did it," he said.
In the wake of the destruction al-Turi lauded the quick help by the Islamic Movement to donate new tents.
"The Jews destroyed, the Muslims help. See what you've done. You are pushing us directly into the welcoming arms of the Islamic Movement," he said. "These were my grandfather's lands, why does someone want to take them from me? I live here peacefully and quietly and don't bother anyone. It is simply embarrassing. I am a man of peace, I always got along with everyone, but you are pushing us to dangerous directions."
Inspectors from the Israel Lands Administration arrived yesterday morning in al-Arakib along with large numbers of police. The ILA said the evacuation was conducted after many years of legal - and physical - battles against the Aturi tribe. The ILA said it demolished 46 illegal buildings, 11 made of cinderblock and 11 shacks. It also said it uprooted 850 trees that were transferred for replanting elsewhere.
The ILA said the Bedouin invaded the area, which is state land, in 1998 and in 2000 a court order was handed down banning them from entering the area. But the tribe moved in and planted trees. The ILA offered to rent them the land at a price of NIS 2 per dunam, but they refused to pay. The ILA received a court order to evacuate the residents in 2003 and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said they were shocked by the demolition. "Destruction of the village was a brutal act by state authorities against its citizens and residents, which destabilizes the foundations of democracy and human rights," said Rawia Abu Rabia, a lawyer with ACRI.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee said yesterday it would rebuild the destroyed homes. In an emergency meeting held in al-Arakib, the committee also decided to establish a fund to help the families, as well as asking the UN and international human rights organizations to look into the matter.
A mass prayer rally will be held at the site on Friday.
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