The Bedouin village of al-‘Araqib in the Negev desert in southern Israel has been demolished at least 20 times since July 2010. Each time the residents re-erect their makeshift shelters, the Israel Land Administration (ILA) arrives with bulldozers to flatten the village again.
This is being done to make way for a forest, while some 250 Bedouin men, women and children face permanent forced eviction from their homes and land to which they have a long-established claim. Now they cannot even access the land on which they used to live, grow their crops and keep their livestock, and their olive and fruit trees have been uprooted to enable the planting of a new forest which will not benefit them.
Al-‘Araqib is one of more than 40 “unrecognized villages” in Israel whose residents lack security of tenure and public services. Contrary to statements by the ILA, the residents of al-‘Araqib can document their claims to the land dating back to Ottoman times, but the Israeli government has consistently refused to recognize these claims.
The villagers have initiated legal proceedings seeking recognition of their traditional land claims. However, some of their court appeals are pending even as the Jewish National Fund (JNF) continues with forestation plans over the villagers’ lands.
The JNF – a semi-governmental organization which promotes Jewish settlement in Israel and has offices in several Western countries as well as Israel – has already landscaped the entire area of the village to prepare for forestation. Meanwhile, displaced local Bedouin families have been forced by Israeli riot police to live inside a cemetery located on the outskirts of the village.
As a supporter of Amnesty International, we urge you to write to the Chairman of the JNF, Effie Stenzler, urging him to place a moratorium on all forestation operations in al-‘Araqib. The JNF says in its mission statement that it is “focused on building, developing and sustaining the land and its people.” Al-‘Araqib residents are Israeli citizens with a long-standing claim to the lands in question. The JNF must not take actions that could permanently violate their rights to housing, land and livelihood.
Image: A family sit on what was their home, after they were forcibly evicted, al-'Araqib village, southern Israel, 27 July 2010;