All 40 homes in the Al-Araqib village were destroyed and 300 residents were evicted during the raid which began at 4:30 a.m. Approximately 1,500 police officers participated including special riot forces, mounted officers, helicopters, and bulldozers.
At least 200 children were left homeless as a result, as police removed residents property into prepared containers, and bulldozers razed buildings and sheepfolds, local activists said in a statement. Fruit orchards and olive grove trees were destroyed in the process.
Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said the “large-scale police operation,” involving 1,000 police officers and border guards, was implementing a court ruling evicting the residents after an 11-year trial.
He said 30 small sheds were taken down, and confirmed that 300 people were removed from the area to nearby Rahat. “All individuals were told ahead of time that they had to leave,” Rosenfeld noted.
The demolitions were facilitated by the Israeli government to make way for a forest sponsored by the Jewish National Fund despite residents winning a court battle overturning the decision, proving ownership of the land in question.
Calls to JNF’s Jerusalem office went unanswered, but the organization’s website says the JNF is serious about addressing challenges and is working with several Bedouin communities to effect change.
“Its leadership meets with regional councils to assess community needs and to develop solutions,” the JNF says.
The Bedouin residents of the village were evicted by Israel in 1951, but returned to the land shortly after. “Residents of [Al-Araqib] are neither squatters nor invaders: their village has existed many years before the creation of Israel in 1948,” the statement said.
Hamas condemned the demolition calling for an international stand against a “policy of rights violations.”
Hamas spokesman for the northern Gaza Strip Abdul Latif Al-Qanoua said the demolitions, targeting a community near Rahat in southern Israel, 30 kilometers southeast of Gaza City, displaced hundreds.
The move, he said, was a “violation of Palestinian human rights and the rights of innocent citizens.” He said the event highlighted an Israeli policy of racism and a larger aim to “clear out Palestinian villages and towns,” noting the similarity to the Israeli policy of home demolitions in East Jerusalem and areas near settlements in the West Bank.
“The occupation has continued the destruction of Palestinian villages in the Negev for more than 40 years,” Al-Qanoua said, and demanded that the international community take a stand against “Israeli arrogance” and what he described as a belief that Israel could act with impunity.
Many of Gaza’s almost 1,000,000 refugees have roots in the Negev, as well as seaside towns cleared of their Palestinian populations in 1948 when Israel was declared a state.
‘An act of war’
Israeli peace activists and volunteers who were present at the demolition said several residents were bruised and beaten by police, but did not require medical attention. One activist, they said, was detained.
The activists described Tuesday’s demolitions as an “a act of war, such as is undertaken against an enemy.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned ministers during a cabinet meeting a day earlier that “a situation in which a demand for national rights will be made from some quarters inside Israel, for example in the Negev, should the area be left without a Jewish majority. Such things happened in the Balkans, and it is a real threat.”
Activists said the flattening could not be “dissociated” from Netanyahu’s remarks and said presenting the Bedouin citizens of Israel as a threat” “gives legitimacy to the expulsion of Israel’s Bedouin citizens from the Negev in order to ‘Judaize’ it.”
Half of the Bedouin in Israel live in “unrecognized villages” and have no access to municipal or government funding or assistance. Estimates suggest the Bedouin comprise 12 percent of the Palestinian population in Israel.