“Look at all the soldiers!” Aziz Abi Mediam exclaims as he points to the horizon. In the distance I do not see armed men in uniform, but rather young trees dotting the landscape. Yet for the people from the Bedouin village of Al Arakib in Israel’s Negev, these trees are doing the same work as soldiers – attempting to push people off their land.
In southern Israel, the desert landscape of the Negev is home to approximately 90,000 Arab Bedouins, who are also citizens of Israel. Despite myths of Bedouins being solely a nomadic people without ties to the land, these residents have inhabited this particular region for over a thousand years and have proof of their residency dating back to the Ottoman Empire.
After the War of 1948 and the establishment of Israel, the Bedouins found themselves citizens of this new country, some even choosing to serve in the Israeli military. Yet the villages they live in remain ‘unrecognized’ by the State of Israel, as it attempts to push the Bedouins either into urban enclaves or into the West Bank, thus having full control of the land.
Without recognition, the villages receive no government services. This means no paved roads, no garbage services, no electricity, no running water–not even a spot on Israel’s map. Without government support, villagers have worked to provide their own roads, water, and electricity access. However, despite their self-sufficiency in meeting many of their needs the fact that they are building in an unrecognized area means that all of their houses, schools, and mosques are at risk of demolition.
Lack of services and home demolitions are two ways in which Israel is trying to push the Bedouins off their land and gain control in this area. One of the most striking forms of confiscation and Bedouin relocation, is Israel’s attempt to ‘green’ the desert by declaring the land to be a forested area and enlisting the Jewish National Fund, an organization that works for the reforestation of Israel, to plant trees. By declaring it a forested area and a national ‘green’ zone, the existing Bedouins become a threat to the ‘natural’ environment of Israel and therefore must be removed.
Aziz is a resident of Al-Arakib, which is one of the many ‘unrecognized’ villages in Israel’s Negev. This one village has experienced over 30 demolitions in the last two years, yet the residents refuse to leave and are committed to rebuilding. As he walks through his village he points to the tent where he yearns to build a home. His tent now overlooks a field full of trees. Just a few months ago, Al Arakib’s fruit and olive trees were uprooted and destroyed by the Israeli police. Now pine trees planted by the JNF grow in the same field. For Aziz, these pine trees are little green soldiers disrupting his livelihood and attempting to push him off his land.
In the Western-European mindset, to ‘green’ an area has warm connotations of protecting the environment and taking care of the earth, thus promoting sustainable and healthy communities. Yet in the case of greening the Negev, communities are being torn apart as trees that are not natural to the area are imposed on the landscape.
Although the situation for Aziz and his fellow villagers of Al-Arakib seems bleak, they are determined to stay on their land. Alongside Israeli activists they are taking a stand against the ‘greening’ practices of the JNF and working toward official recognition of their village through the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, a joint Israeli-Bedouin initiative.
Al-Arakib is not the only community within Israel or Palestine to experience ‘greening. Just half an hour north of Jerusalem similar tactics were used in the creation of Canada Park. As one walks, jogs, and enjoys what the park has to offer, it is hard to imagine that this nature haven was once home to three Palestinian villages: Beyt Nuba, Imwas, and Yalu. These villages, along with seven others, were evacuated during the war in 1948, and their inhabitants became refugees. After the war in ’48, many returned to their villages until the Six Day War in1967, when, once again, they were forced out. This time, out of the 10 evacuated villages, Beyt Nuba, Imwas, and Yalu were declared closed military zones. Immediately after, the villages were demolished and their inhabitants were not allowed to return.
Again, the JNF worked to ‘green’ the area, essentially planting a park on top of the villages, hiding their existence. Here, MCC Israeli Partner, Zochrot provides alternative tours for Israelis and internationals to uncover the truth about the park and the situation of Palestinian refugees.
Canada Park and Al-Arakib are just two examples of the ‘greening’ practices of Israel that seek to either confiscate land or to cover up truth. At the same time, Canada Park and Al-Arakib are examples of people’s steadfastness and determination to work for peace and justice in a land fraught with oppression.