For Immediate Release
Israel: Stop Demolishing Bedouin Homes
Structures Destroyed for Fourth Time in a Month in Negev Village
JERUSALEM - The Israeli government should immediately stop demolishing the homes
of Bedouin citizens in the Negev desert in southern Israel and should
compensate those displaced and allow them to return to their village
pending a final agreement that respects their rights under international
law, Human Rights Watch said today. Hundreds of police officers arrived
unannounced at 6 a.m. on August 17, 2010, in Al Araqib and demolished
about 20 makeshift structures, leaving scores of residents homeless as
summer temperatures soared to 40 degrees Celsius, or 105 degrees
Israel Lands Authority officials accompanied by large numbers of
police had demolished the entire village on July 27, as Human Rights
Watch previously reported,
and returned three more times to destroy temporary structures that some
residents had erected on the site. The demolitions have forcibly
displaced 300 people - about half of them children - even as some
residents are pursuing land claims in Israeli courts.
"Israel is displaying a shocking disregard for the basic rights
of citizens who happen to be Bedouin Arabs," said Joe Stork, deputy
Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "These demolitions should
stop right now."
Israel has demolished thousands of Negev Bedouin homes since the
1970s, and over 200 since the beginning of 2009. Human Rights Watch
documented the systematic discrimination that Bedouin citizens face in a
130-page report, "Off the Map," in March 2008.
The demolitions in the village on August 10 and 17 are the first
carried out by Israeli authorities on a large scale in the Negev during
the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Amatzia Tvua, manager in the Inspection
Division of the Israel Land Administration (ILA) - the government agency
responsible for managing state-owned lands - told Israeli media on
August 10 that "if we have to demolish during Ramadan, we will, although
we try to be sensitive."
Negev Bedouin are Israeli citizens, but approximately 90,000 of them
live in "unrecognized" towns that are at risk of demolition. Because the
government considers the villages illegal, it has not connected them to
basic services and infrastructure such as water, electricity, sewage
treatment, and garbage disposal. Bedouin constitute an estimated 25
percent of the population of the northern Negev, but after being
repeatedly displaced since 1948, they now occupy less than 2 percent of
its land. While refusing to recognize Bedouin land claims to the area,
Israel has granted large tracts of land to Jewish Israelis. In a series
of laws, the latest passed on July 12, the state retroactively legalized
individual farms in the area, almost all of which belong to Jews.
Israeli officials contend that they are simply enforcing zoning and
building codes and insist that Bedouin can relocate to seven existing
government-planned townships or a handful of newly recognized villages.
The state requires Bedouin who move to the townships to renounce their
ancestral land claims - unthinkable for most Bedouin, who have claims to
land passed down from parent to child over generations. The
government-planned townships, seven of the eight poorest communities in
Israel, are ill-equipped to handle any influx of new residents.
In response to pending legal claims to the land that Al Araqib
residents are pursuing in Beer Sheva District Court, Israeli authorities
contend that the Bedouin have never had recognized land claims in the
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After demolishing the entire village on July 27, inspectors from the
ILA accompanied by police officers went to the site for the second time
on August 4 and demolished approximately 20 structures that had been
rebuilt. A member of the Knesset, Taleb el-Sana, was present that day
and was forcibly removed from a structure by police officers. He lost
consciousness and was taken to a hospital. Police detained six people
for questioning, including village head Sheikh Saiah al-Turi, and
released them later that day. Three of them were given restraining
orders prohibiting their access to the village for three days.
On August 10, the first day of Ramadan, police officers and ILA
inspectors arrived at the village for the third time at 6 a.m. and
demolished all the structures rebuilt in the village. Two people were
arrested and released later that day.
Israeli media reported that the Israel Police Southern District head
commander, Yochanan Danino, visited the area later that day accompanied
by the director of the Internal Security Ministry, Hagai Peled. Danino
accused the Bedouin of "forcing the police back to the area," and swore
to "punish the criminals to the full extent of the law and demand they
pay for every shekel incurred by the state for their recurring
Danino added that the state attorney's office was preparing a
lawsuit seeking "millions of shekels" from the Bedouin residents, and
said that the state is "trying to get a message through that has yet to
register, that we will not allow them to return to the lands."
Shlomo Tzizer, head of the Inspection Division of the ILA, told
Israeli media that the July 27 evacuation cost the ILA 300,000 NIS
(US$80,000), but that the overall operation that day cost 2 million NIS
(US$530,000), including days spent making preparations by 1,300 police
officers, bus rentals, police helicopter, horsemen, and other forces.
Israel ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights in 1991, requiring it to guarantee the right to housing.
The 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which
reflects international law, states that indigenous peoples have the
right to lands they traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise used,
and that states should give legal recognition to this right. It also
says that no relocation of indigenous peoples should take place without
their free, prior, and informed consent and only after prior agreement
on just and fair compensation.
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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.