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Negev Bedouin are now demolishing their own homes out of despair

After losing a lengthy legal battle against the state, residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village Sawa decided that demolishing their own homes is preferable to seeing the authorities do it.

By Michal Rotem

On Tuesday of last week, the residents of Sawa, an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev Desert, used their own money to rent a bulldozer that would destroy seven of their own homes. For hours, one could hear the sounds of pounding hammers and a bulldozer driving back and forth, its blade full of pieces of what moments ago was someone’s home.

A young Bedouin watches as a bullzdozer rented by his family demolishes their own home in the recognized village Sawa, Negev Desert, December 23, 2014. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

A young Bedouin watches as a bullzdozer rented by his family demolishes their own home in the recognized village Sawa, Negev Desert, December 23, 2014. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The residents of Sawa decided to destroy their own homes after a long legal process that began in 2007, when the authorities served three of their homes with demolition orders. The legal struggle failed, and after a number of delays in the demolition, the Be’er Sheva District Court ruled that the orders will not be rescinded.

While some of the families living in the village have lived there since before 1948, the families who received the demolition orders were actually forcibly removed from their lands in the north of the Negev and pushed into Sawa by the military government (which ruled over Israel’s Arab citizens from 1949 until 1966). Thus, whether they were ordered to leave their historical land by the military governor, or whether they hade been living in the village before the establishment of the state – the State of Israel does not recognize Sawa.

In 2000 IDF Chief of the General Staff Shaul Mofaz relied on the British Mandate’s Defense Regulations (1945) in order to declare the entirety of Sawa and other unrecognized Bedouin villages in the area a live-fire zone.

Large police forces along with inspectors from the Interior Ministry arrived at the village earlier this week, and told the residents that if they did not demolish seven of the homes chosen by the police, the authorities would do the job themselves.

Despite the fact that the families have been engaged in negotiations with the state for many years, the state offered no other solution and eventually pressured them into demolishing their own homes. Those whose homes were destroyed have no alternative housing, and will be resigned to living in close quarters with their neighbors until a decent solution is found.

According to the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality’s report on home demolitions in the Negev, 78 percent of home demolitions in the Negev are carried out by homeowners, rather than the state. The report shows how the authorities invest resources and put immense pressure in order to increase the number of self-demolitions.

“They forced me to destroy it,” Sawa resident Salama al-Qasisi told +972. “Who wants to destroy their own home and leave their children outside? This is not a democratic country. They see this as an act of weakness, but it is not weakness. The state has already destroyed three of my homes.”

A Bedouin woman is seen near the ruins of her house in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawa, after her family demolished the house to prevent Israeli authorities from doing it themselves, Negev Desert, December 23, 2014. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

A Bedouin woman is seen near the ruins of her house in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawa, after her family demolished the house to prevent Israeli authorities from doing it themselves, Negev Desert, December 23, 2014. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

“We demolished it ourselves now because it is morning,” said another resident. “Our children are at school, so they won’t see the destruction. It is difficult to demolish our own home, but we don’t want our children to be frightened.”

The residents’ fear of state demolitions stems from the way in which they are carried out. They typically take place in blocks of several days, and the residents are not given prior notice. In fact, residents only find out that their homes are about to be demolished when they see long rows of police forces, bulldozers and inspectors arriving. Usually only women and children are in the village, and there isn’t enough time to remove items from the homes, which are then buried under the rubble.

Michal Rotem works for the Negev Coexistence Forum and is based in Be’er Sheva. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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    1. Majnoon

      Next time they shouldn’t build on land that does not belong to them.

      Reply to Comment
      • tod

        Majnoon, are you speaking about the settlers in the OPT pushed by the State to immigrate and build on land that doesn’t belong to them? Double standards.

        Reply to Comment
        • Majnoon

          Both the settlers who set up illegal outposts and Bedouin who build illegally should be forced off the land and their houses destroyed. Works for me. You good with that?

          Reply to Comment
          • tod

            There is nothing like ” illegal outposts”, all settlements are illegal and is not up to the occupier to decide which are “outposts” and which are “legal settlements”.

            Nazmi Jubeh: “I think that slogans are not useful and do not explain the complexity of things. Any Jew who wants to live in our community, following the rules which this entails, must be free to do so. It’s quite a different story, however, to request that the settlers who arrived here by force and in defiance of international law can ipso facto be entitled to see their actions justified. In other words, those who want to live in a future Palestinian state must do so under the law and not as colonialists. When Israel was created, the Palestinians were already here, and accounted for the vast majority of the local population. This is why there are now over one million Palestinians in Israel, many of whom are known as ‘internally displaced persons’ [IDPs]. In constrast to this, settlers arrived in the Palestinian territories through violence and incentives received in recent years from Israeli governments. Equating the former to the latter is not only simplistic, but also morally reprehensible.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            In the aftermath of the first world war, the international community through the unanimous consent of the members of the League of Nations set aside 99% of the Ottoman territories captured in the war for the establishment of Arab states under a mandate system. Less than 1% of the Ottoman lands were set aside for the establishment of a Jewish home for the Jewish people under the Mandate for Palestine. The British as trustees set aside and prevented Jews from settling 78% of the territory and permitted the establishment of the Hashemite monarchy as an additional Arab state.

            The Jews were left with the right to settle and develop the remaining 22% of the lands between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This included the right to build and develop Judea and Samaria. The Jews were given the right of establishing self governing institutions and did.

            In 1945 the UN Charter preserved the rights of mandated peoples.

            In 1947 the Palestinians opposed a partition plan providing for an Arab state living next to a Jewish state in peace and prosperity. In 1947 the leaders of the Palestinian Arabs attacked Palestinian Jews in an attempt to prevent establishment of a Jewish state. The Arabs announced over and over their goal was to destroy the emerging Israeli state and kill its people.

            In the war in which Palestinian Arab society fell apart, Jordan seized Judea and Samaria and annexed it to Jordan, calling it the West Bank.

            In the Armistice agreements Israel and Jordan agreed that the Armistice line was only an armistice line and not a border. They agreed neither was giving up any claims to the territory possessed by the other.

            In 1967 Israel liberated Judea and Samaria from Jordanian rule. Jordan in 1988 gave up its rights to the West Bank.

            Jews and Israelis never gave up their rights of settlement and development of Judea and Samaria. 19 years of annexation did not give Jordan sovereignty over the land.

            Once they were able Jews began a civilian movement to return to Judea and Samaria and they have. This is their right as was guaranteed under the laws of the international community. Once these rights were vested they cannot be wished away. Only the Jewish state can compromise their claims. In the meantime Jews retain the right to build and develop Judea and Samaria as part of Jewish home.

            Reply to Comment
    2. TFB.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      Listed below are a few voices contradictory to the propaganda read on 972mag.

      Ben-Dror Yemini writes:

      For years the Israeli authorities have been struggling with this issue. On the one hand, the ownership claims have been rejected outright in legal proceedings. In some of the claims, the assertions of “ownership for hundreds of years” were exposed as fraudulent. Aerial photographs from the last century proved that “a settlement that had existed for centuries” had not even existed for a few decades.

      Despite the legal determinations, the state decided on a generous arrangement. Every Bedouin family is entitled to a plot of land in one of the Bedouin towns built in the region where they live, and there are plans for the construction of many more towns. These arrangements attempt to approximate the Bedouin tradition and heritage as much as possible.

      For this reason a plot of land in a Bedouin town is nearly one dunam (1/4 acre), which is much larger than the plots in other towns. On the other hand, this is an arrangement that is in line with accepted practices in modern countries, in which land ownership requires registration, and in which human habitations require infrastructure, running water, connection to the electricity grid and paved roads.

      This is no simple matter. There is a clash between a nomadic tradition and a modern country. Israel is not the only country that, over the course of its establishment, has had to contend with the claims of population groups with different lifestyles. Australia had issues with its aborigines, in the U.S. it was the Native Americans, in Scandinavian countries it is still the Samis who complain about historical and current deprivation, and many other countries have gypsies.

      John Podhoretz wrote:

      “Israel isn’t stealing anyone’s land. What it is confronted with in the Negev is the difficult task of administering a situation in which a pre-modern lifestyle is pit against the realities of a modern state and 21st century expectations of how people can live.”

      Haviv Rettig Gur wrote:

      “Israel has already recognized several of the haphazard tent-cities of the Bedouin “dispersion,” but could not keep doing so indefinitely for the simple reason that the Negev Bedouin are the fastest growing population in the world, according to the Israeli government. They double their population every 15 years, and are expected to reach 300,000 by 2020. There simply isn’t any sustainable way to accommodate such a fast-growing population without municipal planning and multi-story housing.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Jan

        You wrote “Australia had issues with its aborigines, in the U.S. it was the Native Americans..” How interesting it is that you chose to list two countries that were invaded by white colonists bound and determined to take the land.

        I have to laugh whenever I hear people say that the US and Israel share common values. They are right. Both countries began with the ethnic cleansing of the people already on the land. And so did Australia as well.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Bruce Gould

      From Haaretz earlier this year: http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.615986

      Concentrating the Bedouin into a few permanent towns represents the culmination of a 40-year process of limiting their pasturage, restricting their migrations and refusing to let them build permanent homes in places where they have lived for decades. This process accelerated after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.

      Since then, the Civil Administration has issued thousands of demolition orders against Bedouin tents and shacks, to which the Bedouin frequently responded by petitioning the High Court of Justice.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jan

      Israel has been building for years on land to which they have no deeds of ownership.

      Maybe it is time to start demolishing every Jewish home built on lands to which they have no deed of ownership.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Baladi Akka 1948

      I’m really not trying to be polemical: I sincerely think that except the physical destruction (genocide) of people not belonging to the Herrenvolk, the “Jewish State” has adopted all majors traits of the National-Socialist ideology.
      Palestinians in East-Jerusalem and elsewhere regularly demolish their own houses in order not to pay The-Light-Upon-Nations for the demolition, the Nazis made Jews pay their own train tickets to the death camps, it’s really the same shitty ideology.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Palestinians ordered to pay Israel to demolish their own homes .

      Tuesday, 18 March 2014 12:25 . .

      “An Israeli court has not only ruled that a number of Palestinian homes in Haifa have to be demolished but also that the home owners must pay 20,000 shekels (just under $6,000) to the authorities to cover the costs. The buildings belong to Palestinian citizens of Israel who refused to be ethnically cleansed from their land when the state was created in 1948.

      Most of the owners belong to the long-suffering Hamid family, which has 65 members. The Israeli authorities want to displace the family and replace them with Jewish settlers. According to Ata Hamid, his family have neither the means to pay for the demolition costs nor anywhere else to go. Despite living in a prosperous city, he said, like other “Arab-Israelis” they suffer grave economic circumstances.

      The family has called upon all the Palestinians in Haifa, Lod and Ramle to stand up in their support in the rejection of Israel’s discriminatory housing policy. They have asked the municipality in Lod to take appropriate action to freeze the demolition order and protect their homes. Sadly, dozens more Palestinian families and their homes face the same threat.”

      Reply to Comment
    8. Eamon McCarthy

      What a choice! – the “opportunity” to demolish your own house in controlled circumstances rather than suffer an uncontrolled demolition in front of your children and without time to remove your belongings – the parallels with treatment of the Jewish ghettos in wartime Europe or of poor tenant farmers in the 19th century in my own country, Ireland, are unmissable. God help us – yet again the oppressed become the oppressors

      Reply to Comment