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Israeli forces raid cemetery compound used for shelter by Bedouins

Jerusalem24 – Israeli authorities demolished the Palestinian Bedouin village of Al-Araqib in the Naqab desert inside Israel for the 211th time on the morning of 25 December.

Residents of the unrecognized village, which was established during the Ottoman period and has been under threat by Israeli authorities and the military since 1953, have rebuilt temporary housing and structures on the ruins of their previous village every time since the first demolition happened in 2010.

But Sunday’s demolition took a different turn, with Israel resorting to a new tactic in their bid to permanently displace the residents from their lands.

A satellite view of Al-Araqib and its surrounding agricultural lands and terraces shows the village cemetery in the center. [Source: Google Maps]

“The only structure left”

Al-Araqib is home to 22 families. Like other Bedouins living in unrecognized villages, they have no access to running water or electricity and rely on generators, solar panels, and water cisterns for their needs, which Israel systematically confiscates or destroys.

The repeated demolitions, which can occur barely weeks apart, have led some of the families to establish themselves in the local cemetery compound since it is “the only structure left standing” in the village, local activist Aziz Al-Turi tells Jerusalem24.

“The Israeli military destroyed most of the structures in Al-Araqib, including the mosque,” explains Al-Turi. “Since 2014, the families of Al-Araqib have been hiding out in the Islamic cemetery and running away from the Israeli police which aims to forcibly displace them.”

The village cemetery was first established in 1914, and generations of residents have buried their family members there.

Until Sunday, the cemetery compound and the nearby vans used by residents as shelter had always been left untouched.

A residential structure the residents were living in prior to the 210th demolition on 5 December 2022. [Source: Michael Bueckert/Twitter]
The vans adjoining the cemetery the residents were living in until the demolition and confiscations on 25 December 2022. [Source: Michael Bueckert/Twitter]

“The dead used to protect the living”

Several bulldozers guarded by Israeli police officers showed up in Al-Araqib in the early hours of Sunday morning. But instead of proceeding with the usual demolition and confiscation of tents, tin shacks, and other structures the residents use as dwellings, Israeli police began confiscating the vans from the cemetery which several families used as shelter.

As the raid unfolded, several Palestinian and Israeli activists and journalists reported from the scene.

Israeli theater director and activist Einat Weizman wrote on Facebook:

“What I was most afraid of is happening now. The security forces have entered the El Araqib cemetery compound to confiscate everything that they can find. For years it was the dead who protected the living – thanks to them it was forbidden to destroy anything inside the cemetery. But here it is. It’s happening now.”

“They took everything”

The raid on the cemetery compound “doesn’t come as a surprise”, says Al-Turi. “It’s an attempt to pressure the people to leave, and destroy their resilient spirit.”

“They even confiscated funeral equipment.”

But although the families are used to the attempts to displace them, Sunday’s raid felt different, says Al-Turi. “To us it felt very violent. They showed no mercy. They took everything.”

According to Al-Turi, in addition to the usual confiscations of water cisterns, generators, and other equipment – as well as the vans the families slept in – the police took away mattresses, clothes, gas tanks, and the fridge used by the community.

“Even the children’s books and toys, and laptops,” says Al-Turi, with palpable emotion and anger. “They took everything.”

Displacement and assimilation

Around 200,000 Palestinian Bedouins live in the Naqab desert, half of them spread across seven townships built by the Israeli government, while the other half live in over 40 villages, the large majority of which are not recognized by Israel (even those existing prior to 1948).

Israel refuses to provide any services to the unrecognized villages, even though their inhabitants all have Israeli citizenship.

The government-built townships lack appropriate infrastructure, are unable to provide work for their residents or social services at a reasonable level, and “do not constitute a viable alternative for residents of unrecognized villages”, according to Israeli NGO Adva Center.

There is a long-standing Israeli policy to attempt to relocate the Bedouin population into these townships and off their original villages and lands, which NGOs including Adalah say is the main reason for refusing to recognize the remaining Bedouin villages, in order to “clear a path for Jewish settlement and development.”

Winter without a mattress

The 210 times Al-Araqib has been rebuilt so far is a testament to the larger Bedouin community’s resistance to such displacement and assimilation tactics.

But what will happen to the families now, at the onset of winter, without clothes, without mattresses?

Al-Turi is curt in his response.

“The people take care of themselves.”

Yara AlNazer contributed additional reporting to this article.

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