Demolitions in Israeli Bedouin Sector Increase by 54%

State says inhabited homes not torn down before housing solution found for residents.

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A Bedouin woman in an unrecognized village El’arajib, which is slated for demolition.
A Bedouin woman in an unrecognized village El’arajib, which is slated for demolition.Credit: Eli Hershkowitz

During 2014 there were 54 percent more illegal structures demolished in both the recognized and unrecognized Bedouin villages of the Negev than during the previous year, according to a report recently released by the Public Security Ministry.

“Increased, consistent, and efficient enforcement are a central factor in the willingness and readiness of the residents to enter a regularizing process,” the report states, referring to government plans to resettle the Negev Bedouin in permanent towns and settle all their land claims. Most Negev Bedouin object to these designs.

The report, issued by the Southern Administration for Coordinating Land Laws, 1,073 Bedouin structures were evacuated and demolished, compared to 697 in 2013. Of the homes demolished, 718 were torn down by the owners themselves after they received demolition orders, a result the state considers a success. Owners who force the state to carry out the demolition may have to bear the extra cost.

Sources in the land laws administration say most of the demolished structures are not inhabited. A “structure” can be anything from an illegal fence or animal pen to a shed or inhabited home. Administration sources argue that inhabited structures are not torn down without finding a housing solution for the family.

Haia Noach, executive director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, told Haaretz, “There is a clear trend of inspectors giving a person a demolition order and threatening to fine him if he doesn’t tear it down himself. There is a campaign of threats against residents, a modus operandi that has no [just] basis.”

In fact, the state cannot fine a person for not demolishing his home under an administrative order – only if a court order was issued to do so. Noach noted, however, “Under an administrative order there isn’t much time until the demolition, so a person considers whether and how to demolish [the structure]. It’s a very humiliating process but they prefer to do it themselves than have dozens of policemen come and demolish their home, which is a trauma for the family.”

“When they give someone a demolition order they tell him it’s worthwhile for him to tear it down himself, otherwise he will have to pay for the tractors and the policemen,” explained Mohammed al-Juda from the unrecognized village of Al Za’arura. “People can’t afford to pay thousands of shekels, so he tears down the house himself.”

After a home is demolished, Juda said, “We try to squeeze into another home, several people sleep in one room so there should be space. There are those that rent a room somewhere else. But we have no solution after a demolition. I don’t see how things will change for the better.”

Often after a demolition, the authorities also plow up the village’s access road, Juda continued. “So we find a tractor to smooth it out. All this costs money,” he said.

Surprisingly high figures

The large number of demolitions last year is actually surprising, since during the second half of 2014 relatively few homes were demolished, due to Ramadan, Operation Protective Edge, and the increased disturbances in Jerusalem, during which police from the Yoav unit in the south, which generally enforces land laws, was involved in security duties all over the country. Public Security Ministry officials believe that if not for the violence that forced the Yoav unit into security duty, there would have been some 2,000 demolitions. Professional estimates put the number of structures illegally built in the south’s Bedouin communities at around 3,000 annually.

Fadi Masmara, director of the Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, said that continuing to demolish homes without offering any housing solutions to residents would lead to an explosion.

“The more they exert pressure on the public, the earlier the explosion will come,” Masmara said. “There are hundreds of young couples who cannot marry because they have no place to live, there is an incredible housing shortage within the towns, there are no master plans, and no building permits, so what are people supposed to do?

“Everything is standing still and meanwhile there are more demolition orders. The state is forcing more and more air into the balloon, and eventually it will explode,” he said.

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