by Anna Violante

This week has seen a wave of house demolitions in Bedouin villages and towns in Israel’s Negev desert. The most significant took place yesterday morning, when 600 police entered the unrecognised village of Wādī al-Khālīl using a helicopter and a water cannon vehicle to carry out demolitions on an unprecedented scale, the largest since 2010. 47 homes were destroyed, leaving 350 Bedouin men, women and children, all Israeli citizens, without a home. “In addition, roads were closed, preventing our local advocacy coordinators from reaching the affected residents,” said a press release from the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, the Arab-Jewish NGO advocating for Bedouins.

“The government wants to force people from Wādī al-Khālīl to leave and go to Um Bateen, a recognised village nearby, but the land the authorities suggest they should occupy already belongs to other families,” Huda Abu Obaid, advocacy coordinator of NCF, tells Atlas of Wars. “Now they are staying in different places in the area, sleeping in tents or in the open air.  They were evicted from their village because it is on the way of the route 6 (trans-Israel motorway, ed), which is under construction.” She concludes. Palestinian Bedouins face ongoing home demolitions by the Israeli authorities, affecting both recognised and unrecognised villages where half of the 250,000 of them live. Of their 46 villages, only 11 are recognised by Israel, so most homes are considered ‘illegal’ for lack of permits. Building regulations are strict, with disputes over land ownership and slow approval times exacerbating the situation.

Israel’s Negev Bedouin have a long and complex history. After years of deportation, those who remained in Israel were granted citizenship. They were mainly nomadic shepherds herding goats and camels when, in the late 1950s, successive Israeli governments built seven towns to house most of them and fill in the land they had occupied with Jewish settlements. The idea was to create an urban, cheap labour force that could be slowly assimilated and given a proper education. Only half of them moved. The rest remained attached to their way of life, forcibly resettled all together to the south in a small part of the territory called Syiaj.

The Planning and Building Act, passed in 1965, made most of the land agricultural and ensured that any house built would be considered illegal. However, the practice of demolishing dates back to the 2000s and has been carried out mainly by right-wing governments that want to make more and more room for Jews. Demolition orders are issued when the government needs the land for various purposes. Villages are rarely bulldozed in their entirety. Usually, one or two houses are destroyed at a time so that protests are not too violent. When a building is razed, its owner must pay fees and fines ranging from $5000 to $15,000. Despite this, Bedouins who are not evicted continue to rebuild their homes.

Demolitions have risen sharply in recent years, as advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence help to identify new structures eligible for demolition. These include old buildings that have been repaired or renovated. Since 7 October, the situation has worsened dramatically and is now bad in all 46 villages, as demolition orders have also reached some houses in the recognised villages, which, like the others, often lack electricity, drinking water and sewage systems.

As poverty has increased immensely due to the withdrawal of many work permits for Palestinians and the shortage of education and health workers, the large and touristic city of Rahat (pop.80.000), famous for its delicious cuisine, was not spared from demolitions, which took place on Monday in its neglected northern part. And even the Hassouna family from the unrecognised village of Al-Fura, whose house was hit by an Iranian missile last month and whose daughter Amina remains in hospital in a serious condition, received a demolition order (the 7 y-o child was injured because unrecognised villages have no right to bomb shelter, ed). But fortunately, widespread media coverage led to the order being revoked.

Now, while National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir glorifies the demolition of ‘illegal’ buildings as a step towards the sovereignty of the ‘chosen people’, Huda wrote to Atlas of Wars last night: “We are about to launch a crowdfunding campaign for families to buy tents, and we are organising a demonstration on Sunday.”

On the cover photo, the village of Wādī al-Khālīl after demolition (courtesy of Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality)