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Israel's "Humanity"

by C/O Diogenes Sunday, Mar. 23, 2003 at 2:02 AM

For you Apologists - this article comes straight out of Haaretz. "On March 4, in the early morning hours, two crop-dusting planes flew over the Negev Hills, spraying field crops with a toxin that caused them to wither and die. Ten people, most of them children, inhaled the substance and required medical treatment. "



w w w . h a a r e t z d a i l y . c o m

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Last update - 02:44 21/03/2003

Sprayed fields and home demolitions in 2002: A partial listing

Bedouin who have cultivated their lands for generations find themselves under attack by the state - and their crops destroyed by herbicides.

By Joseph Algazy

On March 4, in the early morning hours, two crop-dusting planes flew over the Negev Hills, spraying field crops with a toxin that caused them to wither and die. Ten people, most of them children, inhaled the substance and required medical treatment.

The farmers whose crops were sprayed are Bedouin who have been living in the region for generations. They say damage was done to thousands of dunams of farmland that they have cultivated as far back as they can remember. These farmers are Israeli citizens who have been living in unrecognized villages since the establishment of the state. Israel has never come to any agreement with them regarding ownership rights and registry of the land.

The crop dusters were hired by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) and the Green Patrol, who say the spraying was carried out at two major sites, encompassing a total of 800 dunams of land. Much of this land is a military firing zone. As far as the ILA is concerned, these Bedouin farmers are "trespassers." In a press release the following day, the ILA stated that "despite court orders and warnings, the trespassers refused to leave. Yesterday, the ILA, in cooperation with the Green Patrol, took action. The crops were sprayed and destroyed with a herbicide."

The fields in question are located on the outskirts of three Bedouin villages: Wadi al-Bqar and Abda (near Sde Boker and Avdat) and Ghrayer (near Mitzpeh Ramon). One of the farmers whose crops were damaged is Salman Abu Jlidat, 60, who lives with his 10 children in Wadi al-Bqar.

"Like my father and grandfather, may God have mercy on their souls, I was born in Wadi al-Bqar. All our dead are buried nearby," testified Abu Jlidat two weeks ago. Abu Jlidat barely ekes out a living from his field crops, mainly wheat, barley and lentils, irrigated by rainwater alone. He also raises sheep. Last year, he says, ILA officials informed Bedouin of the Azazma tribe that they would have to pay a leasing fee for the land they farmed. Most of them objected, because they say the land, which they have been cultivating for generations, is theirs. Paying rent, even a token fee, would be admitting that it belongs to the state.

Abu Jlidat points to the sprayed field, where the plants are already knee-high. "We are poor people," he says. "After years of drought that harmed our yields and our income, God blessed us with rain this year. The grain was doing very well, and we were looking forward to a good crop. It seems that the ILA couldn't stand to see us prosper, and ordered the spraying. Now all the green shoots have turned yellow. They'll never recover. Nothing can save them. In the end, they'll die, and be no use to anyone. We can't even use them for straw for the animals because the chemicals could harm them."

Until today, the residents of Bqar live in tents and miserable tin shanties. No socioeconomic studies are needed to attest to their low standard of living. Like other Bedouin living in unrecognized villages, they do not benefit from most of the services that other citizens of the state enjoy. Since 1948, says Abu Jlidat, he and his neighbors have been living in fear of the authorities, who have often done them harm. Mainly, they complain about sheep and camels being confiscated by the Green Patrol, with the backing of the police.

In Abu Jlidat's jacket pocket is a dog-eared slip of paper dated March 4, 1981, given to him by officials of the Ministry of Agriculture after they confiscated his herd. Some of the words have faded away by now, but one can still see that 253 black goats grazing in Nahal Kabida were seized that day. The confiscated animals were sold by the authorities. It took eight years for them to pay him the sum of NIS 24,919. He still has that receipt, too.

The most traumatic incident that the residents of Bqar can remember took place a decade ago. Labad Salem Salman, a Bedouin spokesman, says that one morning in August 1993, the Israel Police and the Green Patrol suddenly appeared in their jeeps and dismantled the tents of seven families. Forty people - men, women and children - were forcibly evacuated to Skeib Salam (Segev Shalom), a village near Be'er Sheva. Representatives of this group set up a protest tent opposite the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem and demonstrated there for half a year. Finally, in January 1994, through the intervention of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, they were allowed to return home to the Negev Hills.

Salman says that the crop-spraying two and a half weeks ago was carried out without advance warning. "All of a sudden, people saw crop dusters in the sky. Some of them were in the fields at the time. They were sorry they didn't have their gas masks with them. The children, who were out of school that day, went into a panic. They thought the war had started. Most of the harmed were children from Ghrayer." The schoolchildren were on holiday because that Tuesday was the Muslim New Year, explains Atiya al-Asam, a Bedouin activist.

Ghrayer is a tiny, isolated, rock-strewn village, which can only be reached by an all-terrain vehicle. Some of the sprayed fields are small plots on the wadi's edge, to which access is even more difficult.

Among those harmed by the spraying was Freij Hmeid, 58. He says that he had no idea that his wheat fields - "cultivated by my father and my grandfather and my great-grandfather before me" - were about to be sprayed. After the incident, he felt unwell and was taken to the Clalit HMO in Mitzpeh Ramon. The doctor who examined him gave him a note saying he had visited the clinic after exposure to a substance sprayed from a plane - "probably Roundup, a powerful herbicide." Hmeid was brought in six hours after exposure, "feeling unwell and short of breath."

Hmeid's 10-year old son, Sliman, was also harmed, together with other youngsters who had taken advantage of the holiday to play outside. Ali Znoun, 40, and five of his nine children, aged 10, 9, 4, 6 and a year-and-a-half, were taken in for treatment, too. Will he submit a complaint? "Who should I complain to?" asks Hmeid. "To the government, who did this to us? The only one we can complain to is God."

Two weeks ago, a group of 100 human rights activists from different organizations, among them the Negev Coexistence Forum and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, spent their Saturday visiting the Bedouin villages whose crops had been destroyed and listening to the stories of the farmers and those who suffered health problems as a result of the spraying. Orly Alami, an activist in Physicians for Human Rights, collected samples of the dying plants for laboratory testing.

Ibrahim Abu Sbeih, vice chairman of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, says that the recent spate of house demolitions and the spraying of fields seems to fall in line with the Five-Year Plan (2003-2007) submitted to the new government in the wake of a decision reached by the previous government on August 4, 2002. This decision called for greater enforcement of planning, building and land ownership laws, with priority given to the southern district and a suggested budget of NIS 1.175 billion.

Most of the money will be used to step up activities in the sphere of land registry, strengthen the judicial system, and help the police and Green Patrol deal with cases of trespassing by means of aerial patrols and enforcement of administrative and court orders. Sums will also be allocated for compensation in the wake of land compromise agreements, further development of existing Bedouin authorities, and encouragement of projects that generate employment opportunities.

The Forum for Social Organizations and Human Rights, however, charges that the proposed Five-Year Plan "is not designed to provide recognition and services to the population of unrecognized villages, but to dispossess and drive them off their land, rounding them up in townships." Earlier this year, the Forum presented Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with an alternative plan in which the key word "enforcement" is replaced by the concept of "mutual consent."

The question is whether the government is interested in an arrangement that will also be acceptable to the Bedouin, or finds it more convenient to leave the matter of land ownership up in the air.

FEBRUARY: Six homes demolished in Mazra'a-Shahba; 1,000 dunams of wheat fields sprayed in al-Arakib, south of Rahat.

MAY: Makeshift housing of the al-Touri tribe torn down in al-Arakib.

JUNE: Residential shacks of the al-Roubaydis (6 families) tribe torn down southeast of Lakiya; 3 homes demolished - home of the Ibn Ayda family near Be'er Sheva prison, home of the Abu Kroun family in Bir Hadaj, home of the Abu Asa family in Bir Aslouj.

JULY: 2-story home of the Abd al-Razek al-Sayed family demolished in al-Krin, south of Houra.

DECEMBER: Home of the Znoun family demolished in Wadi al-Na'am; home of Ibn Ayda demolished in June and rebuilt, razed a second time; family business of the al-Nabaris demolished near Houra.



(From list drawn up by the Union of Councils of Unrecognized Villages)

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