A day of ‘law enforcement’: Upheaval, banishment and persecution

In the past 48 hours Israeli police have raided the renewed Palestinian villages of Iqrit and al-Araqib, banished Al-Araqib residents from their homes and tried to shut down a Tel Aviv café that serves as a hub for activists and the municipal opposition.

Inspectors and police at Iqrit (photo: Iqrit's Facebook page)
Inspectors and police at Iqrit (photo: Iqrit’s Facebook page)

Just two weeks ago the displaced Palestinian community of Iqrit celebrated the first anniversary since its return to old village lands in northern Israel. During their annual summer camp the village youth posted signs directing visitors to Iqrit from the nearby highway, and alongside Jewish youth from New Profile’s Alternative Summer Camp, planted a small herb garden. Earlier this morning (Wednesday) inspectors from the Israel Land Administration, accompanied by two border policemen, showed up and took down the signs, confiscated several tents and beds that were serving the people living there and uprooted the small garden. Three of Iqrit’s youth who were present practiced non-violent resistance by sitting on the confiscated beds (as can be seen in this Facebook clip).

“All the inspectors said was that we don’t have any rights on their land, the state’s land, and we were telling them the opposite – that they have no right on our land and that we’re hurting no-one by sleeping out in the open and planting herbs,” says Sammer Tu’ama from Iqrit. “This isn’t the first time that we’ve had to deal with such treatment but we’re staying here.” (More pictures from Iqrit can be found on their Facebook page).

The Iqrit garden before and after (Haggai Matar and Iqrit's Facebook page)
The Iqrit garden before and after (Haggai Matar and Iqrit’s Facebook page)

Meanwhile, in the Negev on Monday, inspectors and police forces demolished the village of al-Araqib for the 55th time (residents have rebuilt it time and time again) and arrested four of its residents, including leading activist Sheikh Siakh A-Turi. The four are suspected of invading state-owned lands despite the fact that the High Court of Justice has prevented the state from declaring village lands its own – as the question of ownership is still pending in legal procedures. On Tuesday the four were released under the condition that they not return to village lands. They appealed the restricting conditions, slept outside the Be’er Sheva police station in protest and  returned home to al-Araqib on Wednesday in protest of the attempt to banish them from their own lands.

“Al-Araqib is our home, these are our lands, our children and whole families are here, which is why we do not respect this illegal banishing,” says Aziz a-Turi, one of the detainees. “We see this attempt to force us off our lands as a forerunner to what the state has in mind for all Arab Bedouins as part of the Prawer Plan.” Prof. Gadi Algazi, who has been active with Tarabut in solidarity with villagers in al-Araqib, also estimated that the fight for the village is a preview of what would happen to tens of thousands of Bedouins under Prawer.

Sheikh Siakh A-Turi in court (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
Sheikh Siakh A-Turi in court (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

In Tel Aviv, however, police are starting to back down from their attempt to shut down Albi – the café which has become the hub of radical activists, the municipal opposition and parts of the LGBT community. After the two workers arrested Monday night were released on Tuesday, police announced on Wednesday that they would cancel the administrative closure order issued the day before. Adv. Gaby Lasky, representing the café, claims police are trying to avoid legal proceedings that would force them to expose their illegitimate motivations for issuing the order to begin with.

At the café, City for All, the leading opposition party in the upcoming Tel Aviv municipal elections, held a press conference in which its leaders claimed the police raid targeted Albi as the party’s headquarters, and was thus politically motivated. Aharon Maduel, the party’s candidate for mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, said he was outside Albi at 1 a.m. when municipal inspectors showed up and asked him if he had just been at the café (which has City for All posters on its front window). It was shortly after this that the massive raid took place.

“On that evening I spent three hours in the catastrophe-stricken area around here, seeing prostitution and illegal sales of alcohol and drugs, and not one policeman or municipal inspector. Then suddenly dozens of police showed up to raid this place which serves as our headquarters,” said Maduel. “This is a sad day for democracy when City Hall uses its public servants for political gain.” MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), City for All’s candidate in the election five years ago, said he would demand that the Knesset set up a formal investigative committee to examine the events at Albi.

City for All press conference at the Albi (Haggai Matar)
City for All press conference at the Albi (Haggai Matar)