USi editor Tim Lezard reports from the Negev Desert
For a man who’s world is falling down around him, Sheik Sayah Al-touri has a terrific sense of humour.
His Bedouin family has lived in the Negev Desert for generations but Israeli settlers have their eye on the fertile land they call home.
“One night they bring police and bulldozers to demolish our tents,” he says. “Bulldozers? If they’d asked me, I could have taken the tents down in two minutes!”
In 1948 there were 100,000 Bedouin living in the Negev. Now there are only 10,000. Five years ago 573 people lived in Sayah’s village of Al-araqib. Today just 22 remain, the others having been forcibly evicted into a nearby township.
“They tell us ‘You have a home, a microwave, a washing machine – you are modern!’,” he says. “But we are happy with our life here. We do not want to move. We want to live free with our animals. We love our space. We can’t be squeezed into refugee towns.”
Settlers, who have already demolished most of the houses and uprooted all the olive trees, challenge him to prove he owns the land, demanding to see documents. But documents are not the Bedouin way of life.
Pointing to the village’s cemetery where his ancestors are buried, Sayah says: “We have witnesses here that show we own the land. We’ve been here for centuries. Israel was born yesterday. Who gives them the right to steal our land?”
His son, Aziz Abu Mdign, shares his father’s anger. “Israel wants us to be slaves. I was born here, married here, had my kids here. Our life was so, so beautiful. The best life. But Israel steals our land, kills our culture and leaves us with nothing.”
Sayah, despite everything, is conciliatory. “We have no problem with the Israeli people. We can live in peace, side-by-side with the Israeli people, but this brutal, unfair policy creates hatred and tension for a new generation.
“We want the new generation to grow in patience, tolerance and understanding, and love each other. We want to live in peace. And in tents.”
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