28 March 2012

Adalah and I'lam Media Center Lead Journalists' Tour in the Naqab in the Run-Up to Land Day

Dr. Thabet Abu Ras of Adalah speaking with the
journalists during the tour

See more photos on Facebook

At least 25 unrecognized villages threatened by demolition - 65,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel in danger of expulsion from their land
On the eve of the 36th anniversary of Land Day (land day website) (30 March), on 18 March 2012, the I'lam Media Center and Adalah organized a field tour for 25 Arab and Israeli Jewish journalists in the Naqab (Negev). The journalists visited unrecognized Arab Bedouin villages and studied the latest Israeli plans to dispossess Arab Bedouin citizens of their land and gather them in centralized towns. Journalists representing print, television, internet, and radio media joined the tour.

Israel, as a democracy, owns 93% of land
The tour began with a short lecture and presentation by Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, director of Adalah's office in the Naqab. Dr. Abu Ras explained that the Naqab is experiencing a process of systematic transfer, with participation from all arms of the Israeli government – the executive, legislative and judiciary. He also pointed out that Israel is the only democratic country in the world that owns 93% of its land and lacks a free land market. Land ownership in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only economic as it may be in other societies, but also holds a strong a nationalist dimension.

Without water… or electricity
At the beginning of the tour, the participants arrived at a hill overlooking the unrecognized village of Al-Sir, population 2,700, located in Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) District adjacent to the prison. The journalists learned about the lack of services in the unrecognized villages, including water networks and electricity, and transportation, and although much of this infrastructure passes the village, its use is forbidden. The village residents must use power generators and solar panels to provide electricity, and buy tanks of water at a higher cost than those who are able to bring water directly to their homes.

On the second leg of the tour, the group visited the village of Abu Tlul, located in the heart of the area in the Siyaj, one of the areas that became an Arab Bedouin population center after the Nakba. Populated by 5,000 people, the village was recently recognized by the state and has a prepared master plan, although the Prawer Plan makes it clear that the village is still threatened with demolition and its residents with expulsion.

Economic tourism initiative… despite displacement attempts
In the unrecognized village of Khasam Zanael, home to 2,500 people, one of the residents met with the journalists and introduced them to new projects initiated by the residents, with the help of civil society organizations, to strengthen their commitment to stay on their land and to overcome the scarcity of resources and work opportunities. Among the interviewees was Mr. Atia Al-Athameen, an owner of a tourist site and restaurant that employs some of the villagers. He spoke of job creation as a necessary step for stabilizing the village.

The last visit was to the unrecognized village of Al-Sira, where demolition orders were issued years ago against almost all of the 55 buildings, home to over 500 people. Mr. Khalil Alamour, one of the villagers and a member of the Board of the Directors of Adalah, told reporters that after years of struggle by the residents and Adalah, the Magistrates' Court overturned the decision to demolish the homes. However, the State is now appealing the decision to the District Court. The villagers escorted the journalists on a tour of the village and to see homes that had been demolished in recent months, after being built in ways that the state authorities considered contrary to planning and building laws.

"Wikileaks" reveals Israeli plans
Dr. Abu Ras' presentation included a slide show of maps and aerial photos of the current situation in the Naqab and what will occur if the Prawer Law is enacted and implemented. He stressed that Israel is trying to concentrate the Arab Bedouin of the Naqab in a specific area (east of Road 40) to prevent any possibility of territorial and demographic contiguity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to a US Embassy Tel Aviv cable revealed by Wikileaks, Israel has planned since 2005 to uproot 65,000 Arab Bedouin citizens from their land by demolishing the unrecognized villages, and not 30,000 as the government now claims.

Dr. Abu Ras concluded by emphasizing that the misinformation released by the state, that the Arab Bedouin control the Naqab, is completely false. Even if the Arab Bedouin receive all of the land that they are asking for in the Naqab, they will control only 5% of the land, while they compose 32% of the population in the area.