A snapshot of the lives of the Bedouin tribe of “Al-araqib”
It’s early in the morning and resident Salem Abu-Mdirems is making coffee in the village’s shig. It’s a ritual ceremony; he makes it on an open fire and creates a musical rhythm as he crushes the beans to invite those at hearing distance. Fifty kilometres away, other villagers, dressed in their typical tribal costumes are feeding the animals.
It seems like a peaceful scene, but in fact their daily lives are haunted by the fear that, once again, the Israeli military guards will arrive with bulldozers, violently remove them and shatter their homes to pieces.
This is the Bedouin tribe of “Al-araqib”, one of the villages most targeted by the Israeli military. In the past two years, Al-araqib has been demolished 50 times and it’s a constant battle. The Israeli military arrive, violently push them out of their homes and raze their tents to shreds with bulldozers. To reduce the impact of the attacks, the Bedouin tents are built with increasingly cheaper materials – four wooden frames and tarpaulin covers.
The village, situated about eight kilometres north of Beersheba in the Negev desert, is accessible by a thin gravel road and there are no sign posts to get there because it’s unrecognised by the Israeli authorities. The Bedouins of Al-araqib have Israeli citizenship but are denied access to basic services including water, electricity, health-clinics and schools.
The Bedouins are known for their hospitality. They greet you with a “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” (welcome) and even if you can’t communicate with them in Arabic, they are happy to have you there and to show you their way of life.
Palestinians commemorated “Nakba” last month – the loss of their land to Israel 65 years ago. The Israeli military is still issuing evacuation orders, as part of a government proposal passed in 2011, known as the “Prawer Plan”, which aims to uproot around 30,000 citizens from their homes and move them to officially recognized communities. The government says it wants to “revitalise” Israel’s southern region and “encourage a population shift away from crowded, expensive central Israel” – which means moving the Bedouins elsewhere.
At the same time, the Israeli cabinet also approved a NIS 1.2 billion economic development programme for Bedouin Negev. The deal is to provide them with economic support and development if they move elsewhere.
The Bedouins of Al-araqib have already tried to live in organised housing in the nearby village, Be’er Sheva, but they cannot carry out their daily rituals, or practice farming – their sole source of income. And they are simply not used to living between four walls.
“I felt trapped in Be’ersheva”, a young girl tells me. “I felt like I had no oxygen.”
In Al-araqib, the Bedouins wake up with the sound of the birds fluttering on their tent rooftops. They eat sitting on the floor in a circle on a rug. At lunch, they usually share something light: cheese, hummus, pita bread and olives. Other times they’ll have a huge dish of chicken and rice to share served in a huge casserole, which they crowd around and eat from the same dish.
The men spend their day at the village’s “shig” – a men’s living room where they talk about daily happenings while smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee or mint tea and eating dates. The Bedouin lifestyle is also adapting to some aspects of modern times. When I asked a Bedouin if there was some way I could contact him, he flipped out his i-phone and added me on Facebook.
“Bedouin” is usually synonymous with “nomadic” but the villagers of Al-araqib say they are sedentary and choose to remain in the same location. They say they are on ancestral land and live near a cemetery, where their family members have been buried. They also explain that they have a purchase agreement dating back to the Ottomon times.
Israel wants to confine the Bedouins, who make 30 per cent of the Negev population on less than 1 per cent of the land, but the families of Al-araqib are remaining resilient, refusing to leave and going on with their daily rituals in the hope that one day, they will be able to peacefully remain on their land.
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