NEGEV (Ma'an) -- Two marches organized by the Supreme Steering Committee of Negev Arabs set off Sunday in Israel's southern Negev region to protest the ongoing demolition campaign targettng Palestinian homes in the area.
Protesters held signs that condemned the Israeli policy of home demolitions in the Negev, especially during winter when families are left homeless in the cold weather.
On Thursday, Israeli forces demolished the "unrecognized" al-Araqib Bedouin village in the Negev for the 107th time.
Israeli forces began targeting the village with demolitions in 2010, along with filing multiple lawsuits against the residents and imposing more than 2 million shekels ($527,920) worth of fines. The first demolition of al-Araqib took place more than six years ago on June 27, 2010.
Al-Araqib is one of 35 Bedouin villages considered “unrecognized” by the Israeli state. According to ACRI, more than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in unrecognized villages.
While Bedouins of the Negev are Israeli citizens, the villages unrecognized by the government have faced relentless efforts by the Israeli authorities to expel them from their lands in order to make room for Jewish Israeli homes.
The classification of their villages as “unrecognized” prevents Bedouins from developing or expanding their communities, as their villages are considered illegal by Israeli authorities.
Israeli authorities have also refused to connect unrecognized Bedouin villages to the national water and electricity grids, while excluding the communities from access to health and educational services, and basic infrastructure.
Rights groups have claimed that the demolition of unrecognized Bedouin villages is a central Israeli policy aimed at removing the indigenous Palestinian population from the Negev and transferring them to government-zoned townships to make room for the expansion of Jewish Israeli communities.
Indigenous rights groups have also pointed out that the transfer of the Bedouins into densely populated townships also removes them from their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyles which is dependent on access to a wide range of grazing land for their animals.
Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya released a report on the treatment of the Bedouin in the Negev back in 2011, shortly before the Israeli cabinet approved plans to relocate some 30,000 Bedouins from 13 unrecognized villages to government-approved townships, reporting that Bedouins in the permanent townships "rank on the bottom of all social and economic indicators and suffer from the highest unemployment rates and income levels in Israel."
The unrecognized Bedouin villages were established in the Negev soon after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war following the creation of the state of Israel.
Many of the Bedouins were forcibly transferred to the village sites during the 17-year period when Palestinians inside Israel were governed under Israeli military law, which ended shortly before Israel's military takeover of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967.
Now more than 60 years later, the villages have yet to be recognized by Israel and live under constant threats of demolition and forcible removal.
Meanwhile, Israeli Jewish communities in the Negev continuously expand, with five new Jewish housing plans approved last year. According to an investigation undertaken by Israeli rights groups ACRI and Bimkom, two of the approved communities are located in areas where unrecognized Bedouin villages already exist.