For years now, the State of Israel has the custom of demolishing houses of Palestinians on Christmas. It has something to do with state employees being on the job and the international media being on holiday.
This Christmas, December 25, 2014, we went on a Negev/South Hebron Hills tour with Rabbi Arik Asherman from Rabbis for Human Rights.
Our first stop
Our first stop was Al-Araqeeb, an unrecognized village of the Al-Turi Bedouin tribe, five miles (8 km) north of Beersheba, demolished and rebuilt 79 times over the last four and a half years.
Sheikh Sayyad al-Turi explained to us how the entire village was demolished, and all their fruit trees uprooted, in order to make way to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) forest.
“The trees,” he said “are like soldiers. They encroach on us and eventually succeed in clearing the land of Bedouins.”
The picture below shows the trees planted by the JNF on Al-Turi Bedouin tribe lands. The other three sides of the village look similar. Before they could do the planting,they had to clear the land of all existing vegetation. This included spraying the crops of the tribe with Monsanto’s Toxic Roundup. There was also an uprooting of olive and fruit trees (in the foreground a couple still stand).
Then the planting of the trees began, coming at the village from every side. Much like the settlements that can be found throughout the West Bank. Speaking of settlements, when Jewish only settlements required more land, the JNF trees have been uprooted to accommodate this growth.
Earlier in the week, upon reading a newspaper article that a Canadian hospital’s CEO had donated dollars intended for healthcare in Canada to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). I decided to write a letter to the editor. In the letter, I commended the article for exposing the CEO and condemned the CEO’s support of the JNF. A friend reviewing the letter suggested the last paragraph of the letter was inaccurate. He wanted a clarification that it was not the JNF carrying out the ethnic cleansing but rather the State of Israel. I thought he was splitting hairs and left the letter as originally written.
. . . I object to hospital CEO’s misusing my tax dollars and donations . . . . intended to improve medical care, for ethnic cleansing in Palestine.
The letter does not appear to have been published. Perhaps the newspaper, like the hospital, also makes regular donations to the JNF. Perhaps no one wants to know the truth when it comes to what the JNF is really up to.
Our second stop
Our second stop was another unrecognized village, A-Za’arura, which had three homes demolished that day – Christmas day. Before most children around the world had finished opening their presents, three homes had been demolished in A-Za’arura leaving parents and children without out their homes.
The homes were demolished because they had been built without a building permit. Two of the houses had been built five years earlier, one in 1987, all received demolition orders, and Christmas Day seemed as good as any to demolish them. There were also demolitions in South Hebron Hills. In Rabbi Ascherman’s words: “Almost every year Israel prepares “Christmas presents”.”
And while any house demolition is insidious, barbaric and beyond comprehension, the Bedouin we visited were particularly perplexed. They somehow felt that they might rate slightly better treatment than Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, if for no other reason than they were Israel citizens. They served in the army, they risked their lives serving their country and yet were returning home to find their homes demolished and their families homeless.
One of our hosts asked, “Where else in the world does a State go around demolishing the homes of it’s own citizens?”
According to a report by Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), last year 859 structures were demolished in the Negev. The demolition of the three houses in A-Za’arura got a one sentence mention on the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF) Facebook page.
And after visiting the Bedouin villages of Al-Araqeeb and A-Za’arura I wondered aloud what was the difference between the destruction in these two villages and the destruction at the Hand-in-Hand school. I wondered why the international community was outraged? Why Israeli politicians flocked to the school and joined in a universal condemnation of the destruction of the school’s classrooms.
And the answer came to me. The destruction at the Hand in Hand school was a product of grassroots domestic terrorism while the destruction of the Bedouin villages was a product of State terrorism. In the case of the latter, the people of the democratic state of Israel, had elected the perpetrators. In the case of the former, they had not been elected – yet!