How To See Palestine: An ABC of Occupation

D is for Desert

In the Naqab desert (called the Negev by the regime and within what Palestinians call the 48, meaning the 1948 border), Bedouins at the village of al-Aqarib told us how their village had been destroyed 98 times by Israeli police. What's left are two tents, one for meetings and one where people live. The cemetery. And assorted scraps of previous structures--look in the bottom right of the picture and you can see an overturned bench.

Their crops have been sprayed with Round Up from the air. The Jewish National Foundation plants millions of trees over as much of the Bedouin land as they can, aided by well-meaning environmentally inspired donations from the United States and elsewhere. The regime plays tricks. They say the desert is where nobody lives so how can the Bedouin claim to live there? Then they say if there is more than 200mm of rain per year, which there is here, it is not the desert and so it is not Bedouin.

The Bedouin animals are arrested as they graze by the Green Patrol—an ecological unit of the regime—and the Bedouin are forced to pay heavy fines to retrieve them. How so? The regime has declared 85% of the Naqab to be state land or environmental reserves, so any person or animal setting foot in these areas is trespassing. The camels are arrested just like anyone else. Despite these conditions, we were treated to a lavish and delicious meal at al-Aqarib, according to the dictates of hospitality. A week after we left, the structures were demolished yet again. And again a few weeks after that.

These experiences are not specific but general. We also visited the Bedouin community at al-Azaria, which is outside Jerusalem in Area C, close to the Wall. The Israelis want the Bedouin there, already displaced in 1948, to leave again so they can extend the Wall. The Palestinian Authority want them to stay so that at some future point, their land becomes the entryway to a Palestinian capital in (East) Jerusalem. In the middle are these devastated people, welcoming but impoverished. 

They live in aluminum shelters donated by the EU that are routinely demolished by the IDF on one of their 4 a.m. inspection visits. These visits also burst the hosepipes that the community use to bring water from a nearby village. These were once wealthy people, if you measure wealth as they do in animals. Now only a few goats pick around the area.

Eviction is a primary tactic of neo-liberalism and I do not think the Israeli tactics are exceptional, as anyone who has visited Chicago, Milwaukee or Detroit will be aware. This is exemplary, however, because of the capacity of the Bedouin to continue to resist, when it seems to outsiders like an almost hopeless struggle. Palestinians call this sumud, which might be translated as 'persistent endurance.' Like any powerful landlord--Trump springs to mind--the Israelis are trying to make conditions so unpalatable that the Bedouin will prefer the lesser evil. 

What's hard for the regime--and it was for me at first sight, frankly--to understand is that however difficult they make it, however desolate the place becomes, leaving is simply not an option, not a possibility. The attachment to the land is not negotiable, it is simply who these people consider themselves to be. Removal would be a form of death to avoid which all other violence is endurable.

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