Monday, November 11, 2013

The Trees of Al-Araqib

Al-Araqib, Negev, Israel
November 5, 2013
Sheikh Abu Aziz

We were welcomed with coffee under the tree - the only tree left on their village lands. The rest of the landscape is graded - all dirt now. All traces of their wheat fields and olive groves, the homes and farm buildings, obliterated by the grading of the land. First the planes flew over spraying the roundup and other chemicals that destroyed the vegetation and killed their sheep and goats. This was 1999-2004. Then the soldiers came and demolished their homes and farm buildings. The first demolition was in 1948, but the recent demolitions began on July 27, 2010, a series of demolitions that continue today - 60 demolitions altogether. 

Israel wants the Bedouin to move from their lands for a "park" being built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Now, this is the Negev. It's a desert. And the JNF is planting trees everywhere. This takes a lot of water, unlike the olive trees the JNF destroyed. 

Next Aziz brought tea for us, all prepared on a small stove under the tree. 

Nearby we could see their current home, which they have set up in the cemetery. A traditional long black Bedouin tent and space for a few livestock to graze outside. 

Aziz told us they used to sell eggs, bringing in 600 shekels a week. They never worried about what they would eat. They had plenty of milk, eggs, cheese, vegetables and camel meat. Now they must buy camel meat at the market and he never knows if he will be able to feed his family and he worries about his children. He spoke to his (maybe 10 year-old?) son and then told us he wants his son to become a doctor and set up the first clinic in Al-Araqib. 

We walked around the area where the village was demolished. All that is left is rubble and a few remnants of plastic shelters on wooden frames. We saw broken tiles and I picked up a piece to bring home. It is a decorative piece that may have been a floor tile. 

All around us, on the north, west, and south we could see the JNF trees, planted to reclaim the village lands for a "national park." I took a video of the a trees, stretching as far as we could see in the distance. We watched the sun set over the desert and the JNF trees - a species of tree not native to the land. The beginnings of a vast forest. 

Aziz said he cannot understand why they uprooted his plant theirs????

He says The JNF trees stand like police over their land, where his family has lived since 1905. He showed us the area where his grandfather's house was. He asked us to tell President Obama to stop Israel from passing the Prawer Plan to remove them from their land. Tomorrow the Knesset begins debate on the Prawer Plan. You can write President Obama too: 

Support the Bedouin residents of Al-Araqib in their struggle to keep their land

Last week we met with Sheikh Abu Aziz and his son in the Negev. His village, Al-Araqib, has been demolished more than 50 times since 2010. The family has lived there since 1905. The village has never been recognized by Israel - no electricity, no water, no schools, no roads. Luckily it is a short distance from a major highway. 

He told us Israel wants to "kill Arab history - plant new Jew history." As we sat under the 108-year-old tree - the only tree he has left - he told us "nothing else is left to receive you." He has only one tree left, but the JNF (Jewish National Fund) has planted what looked to me like thousands of trees, all around him. The sheikh said, "the Palestinian is not the terrorist, but the one who is stealing from the Palestinian people." He said Netanyahu will never make peace, "he who makes peace does not steal land."

Read more about our visit to Al-Araqib in my next blog post. 

Please contact elected officials to continue to pressure Israel to stop implementation of the Prawer plan. I suggest you write to President Obama and say something like:

The Israeli Knesset is discussing implementation of the Prawer Plan, which will result in the destruction of more than 35 unrecognized villages in the Negev and the removal of more than 70,000 Bedouin, citizens of Israel who have lived there for more than 100 years. Their land is being seized for a "park" for Jewish residents of the area around Beersheva. 

Please use your influence (or substitute "make US aid to Israel conditional on") halting implementation of the Prawer Plan now being discussed in the Knesset. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

With Ahmed's family in Anin, November, 2013

Ahmed was eager to take us to see the "wall" which separates him from his olive trees. Although we can see the olives from the hill where his house is, he must travel up the nearby mountain to go through the checkpoint to reach them. Most of the time the checkpoint is open 7 am - 6 pm, two days a week. During the olive harvest Israel has so generously opened the checkpoint each day. 

He shows us the remnants of a very old house on his land and says his grandmother told him that his family has lived on the land for 500 years. Then he tells us the story of building a new house in 1995. Two years later he received a demolition order on his house because he did not have a permit from Israel to build. (Remember, this was after the Oslo accord and we are in the West Bank.) He went before the judge and was given a fine of $7000 - equivalent to the income from 12-15 years of work for this farmer. He said "they are killing me." He also tells us he has not shared this story and he is glad he could tell it.

He laments the theft of his village's land so that three settlements could be built on the hill where he used to graze sheep in the summer. He laments the theft of his own land for building the wall, and the loss of his freedom to cultivate his olive trees whenever he wants to, unbound by checkpoint schedules. He laments the loss of his land and the fine he had to pay - this was to have been his son's inheritance. Several times during his story, he stops because of the tears.

We walk some more and he tells us he likes to come out to his land (the part that is still on the same side of the wall), sit on a rock and enjoy the breeze and the clear air, the smell of the land. 

We walk toward the wall and he stops us short of the 300 meter buffer zone protected by the soldiers, who will stop their jeeps and take out their bullhorns and make anyone in that zone move out - stealing a bit more of the land. 

Ahmed is a man of peace. He has no hatred of the Jewish people. He just wants them to stop stealing his land, his home and his livelihood. He wants to provide for his family and live on the land where his family has lived for at least half a millennium. His existence destroys the myth that the land was empty, waiting for the return of the Jewish people. Or that the Palestinians came from other Arab countries. Or that there are no Palestinians.