Al-Araqib—one of forty-five Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Bir al-Sabi‘ district (the Negev/Naqab) that are deemed “illegal” by the Israeli government—is representative of Palestinian Bedouin communities that have been engaged in a struggle with the Israeli government over land ownership and housing rights since 1948. These villages (sometimes referred to as unrecognized villages) have populations ranging between 300 and 5,000; they are denied public services and infrastructure, including roads, electricity, and running water and are subject to demolition. The “illegality” of these villages stems from Israeli legal-political policies and practices of displacement, dispossession, and denial of land rights of non-Jewish residents and lack of zoning and planning in areas in which they reside.
Since 1948, the Israeli authorities have sought to concentrate the Bedouin in three townships. An estimated 13,000 (out of 90,000) Palestinian Bedouin remained within Israel when the state was created in 1948; many were later forcibly moved to a triangular area covering 1.5 million dunams northeast of Bir al-Sabi’ known as the siyāj (“fenced”), where some Bedouin villages were located. The existing and relocated villages grew in size over the years but remained excluded from state zoning plans. Israeli planning authorities who drew up master plans at the national, district, and local levels did not acknowledge the existence of the villages and zoned their sites as national parks and reserves, agricultural, or military areas, rather than residential. Because Israel denies Bedouin land ownership, these villages are considered to be built over “state land” and their residents are deemed trespassers.
However, between the late 1960s and early 1990s, Israel planned and granted legal status to seven townships that house half of the Palestinian Bedouin population in Bir al-Sabi’. The other half continue to live in the unrecognized villages. In addition, after 2000, the Israeli government decided to grant “recognition,” mostly partial, to eleven villages, most of which remain, however, without significant change. Within this context, al-Araqib testifies to the Israeli policies of concentration, displacement and dispossession and symbolizes the Bedouins’ struggle.
Al-Araqib refers historically to a hilly area between Bir al-Sabi’ and Rahat that includes two cisterns and an Islamic cemetery that dates back to 1914. Two large families, al-Uqbi and al-Turi (Tayaha), lived there until 1948. With the occupation of al-Araqib, most of the families were expelled to the Dhahriya area (south of the West Bank), but some were allowed to return in 1949. In 1951 the Israeli government ordered the residents to leave their homes for six months under the pretext of military training in the area; they were then not allowed to return and most of their land was confiscated in 1954 under the 1953 Land Acquisition Law. Most members of al-Turi family ended up resettling near the town of Rahat, whereas the al-Uqbi family were resettled near Hura. Both families have filed claims for land ownership in the 1970s, requesting that all lands they have possessed and cultivated be registered under their name. These land claims, like 3,220 others that were filed, were frozen. The claimants refused to accept any state-proposed compensation; instead, they initiated the registration of their lands in court and have waged a legal battle with the state since 2006. Al-Uqbi claimed various land parcels in al-Araqib and in Zhiliqa (1,251 dunams) that had already been claimed in 1972-73 by Shaykh Suleiman al-Uqbi. Both the Beersheba District Court and (later) the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the al-Uqbi case; al-Turi family members are still engaged in legal proceedings to prove their property rights over 1,600 dunams.
In 1998, around fifty Bedouin families decided to return to al-Araqib to live on their land when it became clear that the Jewish National Fund intended to plant trees in the area. The confrontation between the residents and the state escalated over time. At first, Israeli authorities destroyed village crops, but on 27 July 2010 they demolished the entire village, which consisted of 46 structures, including 30 houses, and accommodated around 300 persons. By January 2021, al-Araqib had witnessed over 182 demolitions (which typically targeted all structures, shacks, tents, mobile homes, hens, and water tanks). Al-Araqib was rebuilt after each demolition, but the number and the quality of the structures decreased over time. Dozens of residents continue to live near the village’s cemetery in very precarious conditions. Construction material, such as metal and wood, was many times taken or buried by the state in order to prevent residents from reusing it to rebuild the structures. Further, the demolitions resulted in injuries and arrests, and the state authorities sued the families for more than one million NIS to cover the cost of the demolitions.
Al-Araqib’s situation has attracted media attention, and has been highlighted in a 2011 report addressed by James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to the UN Human Rights Council. The response of the Israeli government to the issues raised by Anaya, reflected Israel’s political and legal position toward al-Araqib and the rest of the Bedouins in the Negev. It rejected their classification as an indigenous people, denied their longstanding presence in the country and pretended that “the so-called El-Arkib village was simply an act of squatting on state owned land. The individuals never had ownership over this land.”
The struggle of al-Araqib has mobilized a coalition of local and international activists and organizations, The community of al-Araqib is supported by a number of NGOs and associations, including the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages, and Adalah, and by various political parties and movements. The village has come to represent the struggle of the Palestinians in Israel against land dispossession and discrimination and mainly against the Judaization of the Negev. In 2011, the Palestinian political parties and leadership in Israel decided to hold the main Land Day activities in al-Araqib, a symbol of resilience and sumud par excellence whose residents have insisted on their right to live on their lands and have repeatedly rebuilt their village despite the heavy monetary and psychological costs.
Amara, Ahmad. “The Negev Land Question: Between Denial and Recognition.” Journal of Palestine Studies 42, no.3 (2013): 27–47.
Amara, Ahmad, Ismael Abu-Saad, and Oren Yiftachel, eds. Indigenous (In)Justice: Human Rights Law and Bedouin Arabs in the Naqab/ Negev. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Nasasra, Mansour. The Naqab Bedouins: A Century of Politics and Resistance. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.
Nasasra, Mansour, Sophie Richter-Devroe, Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder, and Richard Ratcliffe, eds. The Naqab Bedouin and Colonialism: New Perspective. London: Routledge, 2015.
Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality “Enforcing Distress: House Demolition Policy in the Bedouin Community in the Negev,” 2016; dukium.org
Zochrot. “Remembering al –‘Araqib”; zochrot.org
“Report by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya.” UN Human Rights Council (A/HRC/18/35/Add.1); ohchr.org