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The Negev's Hot Wind Blowing

12:00 Oct 25 2011 Negev, Israel

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by Jonathan Cook | published October 25, 2011

Over the past 15 months the dusty plains of the northern Negev desert in Israel have been witness to a ritual of destruction, part of a police operation known as Hot Wind. On 29 occasions since June 2010, hundreds of Israeli paramilitary officers have made the pilgrimage over a dirt track near the city of Beersheva to the zinc sheds and hemp tents of al-‘Araqib. Within hours of their arrival, the 45 ramshackle structures -- home to some 300 Bedouin villagers -- are pulled down and al-‘Araqib is wiped off the map once again. All that remains to mark the area’s inhabitation by generations of the al-Turi tribe are the stone graves in the cemetery.

The al-Turis are determined to stay on their ancestral lands to maintain their traditional pastoral way of life; Israel wants the land for a forestation program, to beautify the Negev and attract more Jews to settle there.

The struggle over al-‘Araqib has played out many times before in other Negev locations since Israel’s founding in 1948. Then, and in the early years of state building, all but 11,000 of the Negev’s population of 90,000 Bedouin were expelled to Egypt, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank. Today, with the highest birth rate of any ethnic group in Israel, the Bedouin number about 190,000, nearly a third of the Negev’s population. Half of them continue to live in rural communities, all of which Israel has refused to accord normal legal standing.

But in September the Israeli government announced a plan to complete the unfinished business of 1948. Over the coming months and years, Israel intends to implement a scheme to evict some 40,000 Bedouin from their homes in the Negev in a program of forced urbanization. It will be an act of wholesale removal unseen in this desert region for more than a generation.

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