Dr Awad Abu-Freih’s Story

I am a Bedouin from the Negev (49 years old), from the village of El Araqib which has been demolished 28 times since July 2010.  We Bedouin are citizens of Israel, but we do not enjoy the privileges of Jewish Israeli citizens.

I will tell you my personal story: I am one of 12 children; we used to go to school by donkey, me, my older brother, and my younger brother - we all went into one class.  When my older brother moved up a class, I could not leave the younger one, so I stayed with him through our whole school career.  I was fortunate because my teacher recognized that I was capable of more and he gave me books and encouraged me to learn.  When I finished school I studied chemistry and did my PhD in 1995 today I am the head of the Chemistry Department at Sapir College in the Negev and I am also involved in promoting the education of Bedouin youths. 

But let me tell you about the history of Israel's Bedouin.  After the war of 1948, many Bedouin fled to Sinai, to Gaza or to Jordan. Only about 10,000 remained. The Israeli army moved all these people from all over the Negev into a restricted area (the Siag), known as the security zone, a triangle of land between Beer-sheva, Arad and Dimona. Those who had come from other areas such as the Western or Southern Negev had to establish new villages. However, the Israeli authorities refused to recognize these villages and to provide them with services. 

Later on, in 1970, the government allowed people to live only in seven cities/large township. The government recognized them as places to concentrate the Bedouin, like Rahat, for example, and encouraged Bedouin to move there although city life is not suited to the Bedouin tradition which is agricultural. We are not nomads, but have settled villages, moving only from summer to winter pastures for our flocks. All of these townships suffer from high unemployment, poor services, high crime rates and other ills. In addition, today, there are 45 unrecognized villages, with some 80,000 residents, all of whom suffer from constant government harassment, demolition of homes and lack of services.  The government is considering a plan to recognize a few villages but to move many of their residents to the already overcrowded townships in order to 'Judaize' the Negev, including the establishment of military bases, single family farms (for Jews only) and Jewish villages.

The struggle for the village of El Araqib is a symbolic struggle.  This is land that was settled by my family hundreds years ago, and we are conducting a struggle in the courts to have our land rights recognized.  This is a test case: if we win, it will set a precedent for many other land claims by Bedouin that have been pending in the courts since the  1970's.  As I told you at the beginning, our village has been destroyed 28 times since last year, to make way for a JNF forest.  In order to plant the forest the JNF had to uproot not only our homes, destroy our water tankers but also to uproot our trees - olive and grape vines, leaving 300 people homeless.  The police are now suing us for half a million dollars to cover the cost of the demolition.

On a daily basis too, we are subject to discrimination: every day I am stopped by the police who demand to see my ID, even when I am travelling to my work at Sapir. The ID checks can take anything from a few minutes to 3/4 an hour or more, depending on the mood of the policeman.  In the unrecognized villages there are no services, no health clinics, no electricity, no water, no kindergartens, no transportation and only in very few of them are there schools. Water must be bought in tanks, which is very expensive and electricity is by generator which means that most families have electricity for only four or six hours per day.  There are no paved roads, which means that in an emergency it is difficult for ambulances or fire trucks to reach the village.

Most of the unrecognized villages are the product of Israel's policy of moving the Bedouin into the restricted area 60 years ago, and our pressing claim now is for the government to recognize these villages and provide the services that other citizens enjoy, including health, education, transportation, access to government services and to water and electricity.  These are basic human rights, and the basic responsibility of government towards its citizens.

Awad Abu Freih - September 2011