The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expresses deep concern about harm to the Bedouin in a meeting with representatives from the Negev

By: Shmulik David / 15.2.2011/ translated by: Cindy Flash

Navanethem Pillay

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr. Navanethem (Navi) Pillay, toured Israel and the occupied territories this week, and held a press conference. One of the main themes emphasized by Pillay in her message was the serious violation of the human rights of the residents of the unrecognized villages in the Negev.

"I am concerned about the repetition of the destruction of the 'unrecognized' Bedouin villages in the Negev. After meeting with a man who told me that his village had been destroyed for the fifteenth time, I sent two members of the team to tour the village and neighboring villages and to report back to me. I will continue to follow this matter closely."

The man Pillay met was Yusef Abu-Zaid, the council head of the village of Al Arakib, near Rahat. They met at a convention of human rights organizations at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem on February 8.  At the convention the major human rights concerns in Israel were presented to the commissioner. Yosef adds:

"For two years the council has been engaged in an intensive struggle over Al Arakib's land. Our village's struggle is focused against the government's policy that is aimed at dispossession and the taking of the land with no justification. Instead of letting people live on and work their land, the JNF is planting trees in order to extend their control over the land so that the institutions can use it as they please in the future.


Yusuf abu-Zaid

"Each wave of destruction and the policy of violence against the residents causes them terrible suffering and is injurious to the women and the children who are living a hard life in a constant state of uncertainty; of constant destruction of the roof over their head leaving them time after time without a home. This also leads to irreparable tears in the fabric of communal life in the area ,and drags them into endless and unnecessary conflict. It would be better for the state if, instead of allocating resources for uprooting and destruction, it would recognize the villages and allow the people to live on and work their land. Only this way can the Bedouin feel they are an integral part of the inhabitants of the state. If they can hold their own lands, they will be able to work them and make an honorable living."

Taking part in the meeting with Commissioner Pillay was also Mr. Ibrahim Al-Vakili, the head of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, who warned that the government of Israel plans a campaign of uprooting unrecognized villages:

"The Government of Israel is planning surprises for us. But we won't move from our land. We will fight until we win an allocation to fulfill our rights."

He noted that the residents of Al-Arakib and other villages underwent the repeated trauma of uprooting that accompanied the founding of the state.

Ibrahim Al-Vakili

Ms. Hijar Abu-Sharab, the director of the association Yasmin Alkanab, remarked that the association attends the women of Al-Arakib in their distress and provides psychological guidance and emotional support. She noted that the women and children suffer repeated trauma in the face of the destruction of their homes and the harsh violence of the police, and for years their life is no kind of life at all. Abu-Sharab adds:

"Treatment of trauma is possible at the individual level over time and the intent is to process the harsh experiences. In Al-Arakib it is impossible to conduct treatment because the trauma is constant and unrelenting. Each time, the trauma arises anew. We can help the children cope, and help the parents to cope with the children, but no healing is possible because the pain always returns."

Hend Al-Sana'a, lobbyist, from of the association Ma'an, remarks: "Unfortunately, the woman frequently stays at home and does not work outside the home. The home is her realm and her fortress; her safe and intimate place. If you destroy her safe place – then what is left to her? The destruction amplifies the feeling that violence is surrounding and shadowing her from all sides, and the psychological strain because of that is terrible."

At the meeting were 25 organizations for human rights and many of them called for the involvement of the commissioner in the state of human rights in the villages. Ja'afar Frech, director of the Musawa Center, pressed the commissioner to visit the Negev and to encourage organizations for human rights to scrutinize the violations of human rights there. The directors of several organizations; among them Atty. Orna Cohen, from Adalah, Oded Diner – Amnesty Israel's public action director, and Rabbi Arik Ascherman from the Forum of Rabbis for Human Rights; joined in the request.

The office of High Commissioner for Human Rights is one of the most senior in the United Nations organization. Pillay was born in South Africa in 1941. She is a lawyer and holds a doctorate in Juridicial Science from Harvard University. She has served in this post since September 2008 and this is her first visit to Israel in that capacity. During her visit to Israel from February 6 to 11 of this year Pillay held a series of meetings; among them with President Shimon Peres. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, Minister of Justice Ya'akov Ne'eman, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, President of the Supreme Court of Israel, Justice Dorit Beinisch, members of the Knesset, senior officers of the IDF and also with the family of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

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