The Story of Al-‘Arakeeb
Established in the early twentieth century, Al-‘Arakeeb is perched on a barren hill less than three kilometers off the road that connects Beer Sheva, the metropolitan center of the Negev, to the north of Israel. According to its residents, the military commander of the area, installed by the Israeli government shortly after it gained its independence, asked them in 1951 to relocate temporarily a few kilometers away from where the village originally stood. Villagers living in Al-‘Arakeeb at the time claim they were promised that they would be able to return to their homes within six months. While waiting for decades for the state to fulfill its promise, the original families of the village often went to visit their former village site (Abu Rabia, 2008), even though many were dispersed and relocated to other unrecognized villages and to the nearby township of Rahat, set up by the state in 1972. The state has been claiming that Al-‘Arakeeb is state land and over the years has undertaken the required procedure of registering it as such and beginning forestation efforts (McKee, 2014). The villagers, defying the state’s position, continued burying their dead in the cemetery they founded in 1914, and in the late 1990s they returned to their lands and started cultivating them. By 2010 approximately 300 residents had populated the revitalized village. The government’s attempt to stop them by spraying their crops with chemicals between 2002 and 2004 was halted by a unanimous Supreme Court ruling, handed down in April 2007, in which this practice was deemed to be in violation of the constitutional right of individual honor and dignity (HCJ, 2887/04).
On 27 July 2010, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), accompanied by hundreds of members of the security forces, descended on Al-‘Arakeeb in the early morning hours, destroyed 46 buildings and uprooted
850 trees. Since then, ILA forces, with police assistance, have returned to the village more than seventy-one times (Bhandar, 2015; Murray, 2014), at first to complete demolition activities and later to demolish makeshift dwellings set up by the villagers, assisted by civil society groups. Gradually, Al-‘Arakeeb’s population declined, and the village virtually disappeared, with only a handful of villagers, among them families with children, remaining in provisional dwellings erected within the fence of the cemetery. This was probably the first time a demolition of such magnitude— the virtual destruction of a whole village of 300 people—was undertaken overnight in Israel. Indeed, countless references to what transpired in the form of news reports, editorials, blogs, audio, and video reports can be found online (Nasasra, 2012). Yet no paved roads lead to this tiny village, and it cannot be spotted from the main road. What, then, has caused its story to stand out?