Hundreds of Bedouin Children Join Protests Against Demolitions

Yusuf Abu Zayd, head of Al-Arakib residents committee, says goal of bringing children to protest is to 'make them understand the struggle and its importance.'

Some 600 children from the Negev town of Rahat skipped school for two days this week as part of a protest against home demolitions in the nearby Bedouin village of Al-Arakib, which the state does not recognize as a legal entity.

On Sunday an administrative court rejected a request by Al-Arakib residents to stop the demolitions.

The state razed structures in the area on January 16, reportedly for the ninth time.

"The children come here so we can show them what this state that they live in is doing to their village," said Sayah Abu Midam, the sheikh of Al-Arakib. "This government threw the children out into the wadi at 3 A.M. and destroyed their homes. We want our children to also understand the significance of the demolitions."

Yusuf Abu Zayd, who heads the Al-Arakib residents committee, said the goal of bringing the children to the protest yesterday and Monday is to "make them understand the struggle and its importance."

"We are teaching the children the history of the place and the importance of the ties between them and their families' land," he said.

The committee is also planning to publicize the names of police officers it said used undue force during the demolition.

Rising violence

"During every demolition, we notice rising violence," said Awad Abu Farih, the committee spokesman. "We've noticed several police officers who take it personally and react irritably, and we have warned the commanders in the field that these police officers will make mistakes."

Abu Farih said the residents want to see the police force dismiss the officers they have identified as violent.

"We want to be in a situation so that the whole world will know that these police officers are violent, and they will no longer have a place on the police force," he said. "We want them to be dismissed. Under no circumstances do we want to see them in the village."

As for this week's protest, the children participated at their parents' initiative, not that of Rahat, a Bedouin town that is officially recognized, Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu Sahiban said yesterday.

"We came to the village instead of going to school because we want them to stop destroying the buildings here," said a 13-year-old boy from Rahat. "This land belongs to our grandfathers and grandmothers."

The Education Ministry said classes were continuing as usual in all Rahat schools and urged parents to send their children back to school.

"The Education Ministry opposes the parent-initiated strike and is calling for the students to return to normal studies," it said in a statement.

The ministry said it expects the students to return to school today.