Hundreds of Negev residents, Jews and Arabs, as well as friends and supporters from all over the country, gathered Saturday afternoon in the lands of el-Malichi el-Arakib, near the Lehavim-Rahat junction in the Negev.
They have gathered to support the struggle of el-Turi, el-Ukbi, el-Talalka and other Bedouin tribes - with the support of the el-Arakib Land Defence Committee and the Recognition Forum - against the government of Israel and the Jewish National Fund, which seek by force and deceit to take over the Bedouin land in the Negev.
In the past year, the Jewish National Fund has started to cultivate the el-Arakib area lands, despite the fact that Bedouin residents are in the midst of a judicial process, aimed at proving their ownership of the land.
The JNF is creating a fait accompli, aiming to turn the judicial process meaningless by taking over the land and planting trees.
The big demonstration started with a water convoy, comprising water tankers, cars, tractors, and horsemen, moving in parallel with the Tel-Aviv--Be'er-Sheva highway, between the Lehavim junction and the Goral junction. The water convoy was aimed at protesting the deprival of many citizens in the Negev from the right to have flowing water in their homes. Afterwards a mass protest rally was held, attended also by Knesset Members Dov Khanin, Hannah Sweid and Taleh Bassana. Khanin said: "The struggle of the Bedouins in the Negev is a struggle for the most basic things: the right to a home, the right to water, the right to land, and the right to justice. This is the a struggle for the character of the Israeli society which must be supported by all people of conscience. Only a just and egalitarian society can have a real future."
Yusuf Abu-Zeid, of the Al-Arakib Committee, said: "What happened two weeks ago on this land is totally unacceptable. They bring in an enormous number of police, together with the JNF people, and taking over the land. We had people wounded, we had people detained, we have to pay enormous fines and it is all because people want to protect their land. We call upon the Jewish public to join us in the just struggle for the future of all of us. They want to close us in a narrow cage where you can't live. Stop the detentions, stop stealing the land from its owners!"
Chaia Noach, of the Negev Coexistence Forum, said: "We are here to call upon the JNF to stop immediately all their activity in Al-Arakib, until a definite ruling has been made about the ownership claim of the Bedouins here and in the Negev in general. The whole attempt of the JNF that they are just a sub-contractor doing work on behalf of others is an unconvincing fig-leaf over the nakedness of ethnocracy. People who donate to the JNF should be aware of what is being done with their money, and decide whether they want to have part in it. They need to know that this forest which is planted by the JNF in the middle of the desert is not an innocent forest but a means of stealing the little bit of land which the Bedouins have left. It is a forest aimed at stealing life, stealing away of life, stealing a tradition, stealing dignity and livelihood, stealing the land of the Bedouins of the Negev!"
Dr Awad Abu-Freih, of the Al-Arakib Land Defence Committee: "We have waited 61 years for justice and we saw that justice does not arrive. Instead of justice we see a facts created on the ground by the JNF land robbery and therefore the time has come to move on to new levels of struggle. We will absolutely not accept the present situation and we will do everything needed to prevent the JNF from taking over our land." All speakers emphasized that it is vital to have close cooperation between Jews and Arabs in the struggle which touches upon the future of everybody.
After the demonstration, the members of the Recognition Forum went on for a solidarity visit to the protest tent of the al-Karnawi tribe near Kibbutz Mishmar HaNegev. Land which has been taken from the el-Karnawi tribe was cultivated by the Mishmar Hanegev kibbutzniks, with the consent of the el-Karnawi Bedouins. However, now this agricultural land is earmarked to become an exclusive neighborhood of villas. The land for the villa of half a dunam will be marketed at the price of 300,000 Shekels, while the Bedouins were offered a "compensation" of 2,800 Shekels for a whole dunam. This "compromise" is totally unacceptable to the Bedouins. Talal el-Karnawi, former mayor of Rahat, said: "Rahat and Mishmar Hanegev had until now excellent neighborly relations. Now, because of their real estate deals, they are willing to put these relations in jeopardy.
Recognition Forum, P.O. Box 130, Omer 84965, Israel Phone: 050-7701118/9 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.dukium.org Association of the Forty, ph: 04-8362381, fax 04-362361, email@example.com, www.assoc40.org
Participating organizations: Association of the Forty, Bustan, Gush Shalom, Association for the Defence of Bedouins Rights in Israel, Alternative Information Center, Yesh Gvul, Committee Against House Demolitions, Negev Coexistence Forum, New Profile, Women's Coalition for Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta'ayush.