Twilight Zone / The Invaders

Last week, an entire 'unrecognized' Bedouin village was demolished, far from the public eye. But residents won't give up: They have already started to rebuild.

Amid the ruins, amid the smashed household utensils, crushed children's bicycles and scattered medications, amid the walls that have collapsed on the contents of homes, the uprooted trees and broken toys, I found a brown cardboard carton on which was written in Hebrew: "holy books."

I opened the carton: a volume of the Hebrew Encyclopedia, and beneath it "All That Remains," the monumental work by historian Walid Khalidi on the Palestinian villages lost in 1948, and a book about the Oslo Accords. Those who destroyed the village apparently had mercy on these books, packing them up and sparing them from the bulldozers.

At dawn on Tuesday of last week, these bulldozers, accompanied by about 1,500 policeman, raided and demolished a village in Israel. Unrecognized, but still a village. A non-story in Israel, but the British newspaper The Guardian called it "ethnic cleansing in the Negev." The video film on The Guardian website shows the images not seen here: The bulldozers plowing into dozens of houses and other buildings, the crudeness of the hundreds of armed police and the sad expressions on the faces of the inhabitants, who watch in silence and amazing submissiveness while their state demolishes their homes.

The sheep seek to escape the burning sun among the village graves. Their pen has also been demolished. The bulldozers also had mercy on the graveyard, where the first grave was dug decades ago and the last this week. Israel has always had mercy on holy structures. Mosques and graveyards were the only remnants that survived back in 1948.

"Invaders" is what the state is calling the inhabitants of the village. And what is a graveyard doing here? Is it, too, "illegal?" "Unrecognized?" An "invader?" And also the wells? One can, of course, be impressed by the wealth of legal decisions regarding the fate of the village, Arakib, north of Be'er Sheva. The proceedings went on until late at night at the court in Kiryat Gat, as the forces were already preparing to raid. Israel calls them invaders and land robbers; the inhabitants argue that there are documents and deeds, and that the existence of the graveyard and the wells are proof of their ownership of this land.

One resident displays a deed from the time of the Turks. Another shows a court decision to postpone deliberations on the fate of his home until the start of next year, but state representatives urge the court to get it over with already - the demolition operation is waiting.

This land was their land. They were evicted from it in the 1950s and they returned to it in the 1990s. Invaders. Squatters. But the legal battle was lost before it began.Israel seeks to 'purify' the Negev of Bedouin and concentrate them in wretched towns - and it has the law on its side. Individual ranches are only for Jews. Evacuation of illegal settlements is only for Arabs. Demolition of homes without compensation and without therapeutic care for homeless, shocked children - only for Bedouin.

The State of Israel versus Arakib: The "Ambassadors' Forest" on behalf of the state of Israel, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Jewish National Fund has already been planted around the village. It is doubtful that the dozens of ambassadors who gave a hand to this misappropriation - the expulsion of Bedouin from their lands, the covering of the ruins with vegetation, the covering of the shame with trees, exactly as happened after 1948 - knew that Israel was turning them into bad-will ambassadors.

Here, then, for the information of the diplomatic corps: Do you remember the impressive ceremony held in 2005 in your presence? Be informed that this forest of yours was intended solely as a basis for the state's hold on the land, at the expense of Bedouin locales.


Projects of destruction in the territories, like the one underway now in the Jordan Valley, usually leave behind them ruins of meager shacks and wretched sheep pens. Here it's different. In Arakib they smoke Marlboros and Kents, drink mineral water in disposable cups and speak excellent Hebrew. Bookcases and elegant leather sofas can be seen among the ruins. Two Mercedes vehicles belonging to the rich man of the village, Muhammad Jum'a Abu Madian, are parked beside the ruins. His children are now scattered among his friends: Shaul Shai from Ashdod, Danny Hananel from Mabu'im and Yaakov Ron from Kibbutz Shoval. Jum'a is a businessman who employs hundreds of workers - at the chicken slaughterhouse in which he is a partner, on Kedma Street in the northern industrial zone in Ashdod, in his large foodstuffs agencies throughout the Negev and in his other businesses. An Israeli in every respect, he too was born here, and he too wants to continue living here.

Now he is showering in the shade of one of his trucks. His suit and his scent are in the trunk of the Mercedes 550, a personal import.

"I had a 300-square-meter house. Now I have a one-square-meter house," he says. Workers are already rebuilding his home. Last Saturday, hundreds of Israeli peace activists came here to demonstrate and help with the building.

Doves and geese wander around their former village, which now looks like a disaster zone. "Even the doves don't want to leave," says Sheikh Sayyah Abu Drim. With a big mustache and wearing a white galabiya and kaffiyeh, the sheikh recounts the history of the village with nearly biblical pathos. How he was born here, how his ancestors paid taxes on this land to the Turks, how the area flourished in his childhood with olive trees, prickly pears, grapes and figs, how they were expelled from here in the 1950s, how the state began to plant forests in the area all around at the end of the 1990s and how at the start of the 2000s Israel sprayed their fields from the air with a mysterious substance.

"We don't have any faith in the court and we don't have any faith in the units of criminals called the police and we don't even have any faith in our lawyers," says the sheikh. "The police applauded when they finished demolishing and said: Long live the State of Israel. But what kind of state is this? It is a stinking state."

And immediately he corrects himself: "It isn't the state. It is just the Israel Lands Administration and the police."

Jum'a tells us someone in the ILA once said to him: "Go to Nasrallah."

"A number of people at the ILA in Be'er Sheva are in conflict with us, but we aren't going to hate all of Be'er Sheva. We are partners for better or worse. If one of us were to speak in Nasrallah's name, he would go to jail. But the man whose job it is to solve problems is pushing us toward Nasrallah. Look at that tent over there. Who built it? The Islamic Movement. The movement that is opposed to the state is building for us, and the state is demolishing for us. But we will prove to the haters of the state, to the ones who are expelling us, that we will continue to work together."

Thirty-five buildings, hundreds of olive trees, an estimated NIS 5 million in damages.

The sheikh: "I don't know when the Jewish people will look at the deeds of this government. Why are people silent? Previous governments did not take decisions to destroy a village. They demolished a house here and a house there, but an entire village under the open sky? To come in the middle of the night with a declaration of war, declarations of destruction? And after this I have to tell my children that the Jews are all right, that they are our cousins? We will not do any ill to the state or to ourselves. We will not spill blood, but will build 100 more times. We are prepared for another 100 demolitions, until they recognize our right. We are not invaders, not squatters. The State has invaded us."