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Israel razes Bedouin village —again

Israeli forces used bulldozers to demolish the "unrecognized" Bedouin village of al-Araqeeb in the Negev desert on July 16—for the 53rd time in three years. The demolition came one day after thousands of Palestinian, Israeli Arab and Bedouin protesters took to the streets in towns across the West Bank, Gaza and inside the Green Line to oppose an Israeli bill that would forcibly expel tens of thousands of Bedouins from the Negev. Araqeeb, home to some 500 people, is one of about 40 Bedouin villages in the Negev not recognized by Israel's Land Authority. Following the 38th demolition of Araqeeb last year, villagers said they wanted apply with the Guinness Book of World Records to claim a record for the number of times Israel has demolished a village.

The Praver Bill, currently before the Knesset, would forcibly expel up to 40,000 Bedouins who live on lands claimed by the Israeli state, totalling some 850,000 dunums. The bill for the "regularization" of Bedouin villages in the Negev was submitted by the government based on conclusions drawn by a committee headed by retired Justice Eliezer Goldberg, following a study by former minister Benny Begin. The Bedouins claim the measure is inadequate, excluding their majority of their settlements.

The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality also opposes the bill, with director Haya Noah saying: "A decision by the parliament that distinguishes between groups based on ethnic origin and perpetuates unequal allocation of resources on a racist principle is a badge of shame for a rule system that calls itself a democracy."

The largest protest against the bill was at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, where some 300 activists blocked roads. Most businesses were closed in Israel's Arab sector in a one-day strike against the bill. The general strike was called by the Arab Follow-Up Committee, which pledges more such actions in the days to come.

The protests recall the 1976 Land Day protests, when thousands of Arabs demonstrated in various Israel cities, mainly in the Galilee, against similar expropriation plans. Six Arabs were killed in the clashes with Israeli security forces in that campaign.

Al-Araqeeb village elder Aziz Abu Madijam, a 38-year-old father of six, told Ynet: "Two years ago there were almost 600 people in our village, but one day police arrived and demolished the village. From a nice village where everyone without exception is working and paying taxes we were back to being a small tent settlement. They try to represent the Bedouins as people who live in tents and drive luxury cars, but it's only because they don't let us build and develop our lands.... My grandfather's grandfather bought these lands in 1904, when the land was under Ottoman rule. My grandfather lived on the same exact plot of land during the British Mandate, and me and my father have lived here under Israeli rule. And now we're suddenly invaders upon the state's property."

"My house was a few yards away from the cemetery, a cemetery where my forefathers are buried, that was established in 1903," Abu Madijam added. "After my house was raised I had to buy a tent and put it inside the burial vault since the police don't come in there and raze. This is my land and I shall not let go of it."

Abu Madijam's wife told YNet: "This is where I lived my entire life and this is where I'll perish. Even for each acre of my land they'll offer me an acre in Tel Aviv, I'll say no." (Al Akhbar, July 16; WAFAYNetYNet, July 15; YNet, June 26)

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