The Events of January 2011 at the Bedouin Village Al Arakib*:
By Haia Noach**
Haia Noach Arrest
The week (of January 16th and 17th 2011) began with a call from the residents, alerting us that police forces were gathering at Beit Kama. As usual we quickly organized ourselves and traveled to Al Arakib. It turned out to be an infamous day that we shall always remember, a day when the police escalated their brutal treatment of the Bedouin village of Al Arakib and its supporters. The police, frustrated and helpless in the face of Al Arakib residents’ model civil struggle against injustice, resorted to violence and brutal force.
We arrived a little after the police had already sealed off the village and they refused to let us in. We argued with the commander of the Border Patrol Barrier, Arthur Ifraimov (No. 1084243), who tried unpersuasively to explain to us why the village was out of bounds. He did not present any document prohibiting our entry in spite of our repeated requests. We then drove southwards and found a way into the village. Along the way we saw bulldozers of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), aided by the police, blazing a track to the new tree-planting area east of the village.
We arrived at the village and, like all its inhabitants, watched helplessly as it was being destroyed for the ninth time. This time, however, the demolishers were accompanied by dozens of trucks loading the rubble from the eight previous demolition operations.
As we desperately watched the bulldozers and trucks, on the far side of the village the first “battle” was waged east to the village. Some children and adults, protesting the manner in which the bulldozers were making themselves at home in the village, were shot with rubber and sponge bullets. They were also hit with teargas and pepper spray canisters and were wounded. Five of them remained wounded at the site until ambulances came to evacuate them to SorokaHospital in Beer Sheva. Many more had minor wounds and so they remained in the village with us.
This was the beginning of a week in which the police exerted unreasonable force against helpless civilians trying to stand up for their rights and protest the destruction of their village. It was the beginning of a week in which a ruthless, violent police special unit operated in the village on a day that ended with the arrest of three of the villagers.
On the first day of the week, following the demolition, the people returned to their village and erected a shelter to protect themselves from the cold and wet night. We left the village at nightfall, then mailed the photos we had taken during the day, still shocked at the events we had witnessed and concerned with what would follow.
The following day, Monday, we set out earlier thinking the destruction contractors will show up again. We left Beer Sheva in two cars, and another car with activists was due to arrive from Tel Aviv. When we reached Lehavim Junction we saw dozens of trucks going south and realized we were too late and would not be allowed to enter the village. The disabled traffic lights and special traffic arrangements allowing dozens of police vehicles and the Green Patrol to move in from Lehavim made it clear to us that we would have to reach the village by alternative routes. So we did that, reaching the village and parking not far away. We began walking towards the cemetery and were immediately stopped by a masked member of the special police force. When we demanded to know his name he asked us to identify ourselves. He answered, “101” and kept repeating it when we asked for his name.
We stood there. The policemen collected our IDs. Yossi, who stood with us, had his hands in his pockets, waiting for his ID to be returned. Suddenly a policeman yelled at him: “Why are your hands in your pockets?” Immediately other policemen jumped at him, forcefully twisting his arms. Yossi groaned with pain. The policemen banged him against the back window of a vehicle parked close by and gave him a body search. As they found nothing, they let him go. Yossi came back to where we were standing, in pain and humiliated.
After our IDs were cleared, a policeman from Rahat was summoned to inspect the two vehicles in which we had come. We opened the hood, turned the steering wheel this way and that, our tires were inspected and apparently we passed this test too. There were no excuses left to detain us. We thought that our way to the cemetery, where the villagers were gathered and not allowed out, was now clear. We hoped to be able to join them and consult with them, as we normally do. But no! Commander 101 ordered: “Okay, now get the hell out of here, goodbye!” When we asked by what right he forbade us from entering the cemetery, he yelled: “Get out or you’re under arrest!”
Gadi justly decided to resist this arbitrary order and to continue trying to reach the village. Several policemen surrounded him and began to shove him. Within seconds he was arrested and taken to Rahat police station, where charges were filed against him for beating up a policeman. He was released from custody close to midnight. As for the rest of us, we moved back about 30 meters from the police, who “let” us stand there in the sunlight of this chilly morning.
Bulldozers destroyed the village houses and collected the rubble. The property and ruined home of the villagers were loaded onto dozens of trucks that carried all the rubble to Duda’im garbage dump. They repeated this action over and over again.
Over the course of the day the villagers began to leave the cemetery. Those who tried to enter it from the outside were stopped by the police further away on Road 40.
In the afternoon we returned to the village. At about 4 p.m., the bulldozers and trucks finished their work and everyone, including the police, left the venue.
Later on we discovered that the police tricked us: they returned less than half an hour later from Wadi Al Arakib, south of the village, shooting a type of rubber or plastic and sponge bullets at people who began to prepare their shelter for the night.
There were many adults and children in the area inside the wadi. When they discovered the police, they began running into the cemetery. Not one policeman bothered to warn or order them to stop. The special unit men shot and wounded indiscriminately – men, women and children. Their bodies still bear the signs.
Those of us around the southern hill of the village got into our cars. We tried to leave the area and took 9-year old Mohammad with us, but after about 10-20 meters, the police ordered us to halt. I stopped the car, but then a bullet was suddenly fired at the driver’s window. Luckily the window was closed. We were stunned and got out of the car following an order of a police officer, “Abed”, a bearded red-head who was especially violent. He and others who were not wearing name tags aggressively ordered us out of the car, shoving two of us, Hadar and Eliana. Our request to take Mohammad to the cemetery – he had started crying in the meantime – was met with refusal. Mohammad was scared of the police and afraid to walk on his own. The violence of the policemen was unnecessary and beyond anything that might be considered reasonable force. As we were standing outside the car waiting, they continued to air their aggressions at us. Aziz and Suleiman were ordered to sit on the ground. Everyone obeyed their orders. The policemen then announced that my car and that of Aziz were “confiscated”.
The policemen were aggressive although none of us intended to clash with them. One of the policemen took us in Salim’s car (which was also confiscated) to Rahat police station. He drove recklessly, speeding up without caring for the car or the trailer attached to it. Later on I found out that the refrigerator stored in the trailer had broken down, and other articles were damaged.
Attorney Salam Abu Mad’gham who soon came to help us and talk to the policemen was arrested as well.
When we arrived at Rahat police station the interrogations began. The policemen and some of the interrogators were particularly hostile. At this point I feared even more that one of us would be injured. The police treated us with humiliation and violence.
There were not enough chairs. Hadar and Eliana were ordered to sit on the floor. Mumtaz was standing at the corner of the room. He was then ordered to move to the other side of the room (leaning on the wall, he accidentally switched the light off). Since the policemen thought he did not move fast enough, they shoved and hit him.
Since we had no experience of arrest, we feared for the outcome. The clock ticked. When the lawyers arrived, they described to us what to expect, and thus relieved some of the tremendous pressure we were under. The arrival of the lawyers did calm things a bit, but then “Abed” (the policeman) managed to quarrel with one of them and told him he too was detained for questioning. This arrest of a lawyer, in the heart of the police station, greatly increased our sense of insecurity for it deprived us of our elementary civil right. I began to fear that “Abed” would lose control over his actions. He proved to be Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde: at one point he was relaxed and soft-spoken, and then he blew up as if possessed.
Comments such as “why are you helping the Bedouin?” or “go to the fence!” (in Bil’in, a contested zone along the Green Line) were pronounced almost by anyone present at the station, and not only by the policemen that arrested us.
Interrogator Yig’al boasted that we would all end up in jail, including ‘women and children’.
During the investigations and following the arrest of our lawyer we hoped someone else would soon take his place in our defense. This didn’t quite work out. Another lawyer intervened too late, about two hours after the arrest. So at about 10:00 p.m. we were taken to prison (“Ohalei Kedar”). We were put in a police van, Hadar and Eliana in shackled hands and feet, and myself with my feet chained.
Our experience overnight at the prison was appalling, despite the fact that the wardens’ behavior towards us was somewhat more decent.
Our stay in prison began with a long process of unshackling, taking out our shoelaces, getting interviewed by the paramedic, the officer in command and the social worker, all of whom asked the same questions. We were told we would be put in a wing designated for minors and women, but in fact they put us in a cell at the end of the Adult Wing corridor. Our way there was accompanied with noisy whistles of male prisoners who surrounded us. Once in the cell, our world collapsed. There were several filthy mattresses, five army-like woolen blankets, and nothing else.
The toilet booth was filthy. Cockroaches ran around the soiled floor. Eliana tried to get the wardens’ attention and ask for another blanket, but in vain. We understood that in other cells there was an intercom system connecting prisoners with the warden, but we didn’t find one in our cell. People from the other cells had to yell to get the attention of the warden, and only then he connected the intercom, occasionally.
I suggested we wrap ourselves up in all the clothing we had so that contact with the mattresses and blankets would remain minimal. We laid down and went to sleep. Suddenly Hadar jumped, a cockroach having fallen on top of her. She turned the mattress upside down, caught the cockroach with a plastic cup, and threw it out. We went back to sleep in this filthy place and thus had the horrendous experience which many men and women in Israel go through day in, day out.
All night people continued to arrive at the wing. There was hardly a quiet moment. The cold got into our bones. Hadar, with only one blanket, covered herself up with a mattress. In the middle of the night I passed one of my blankets to her. All night we heard yelling and crying. One of the detainees hoarsely asked for hot water.
At dawn, 5:30 a.m., a voice on the loudspeaker woke us up. A prisoner arrived at the cell, giving out hot water. However, there were no glasses in the cell (except for the plastic cup that Hadar used to dispose of the cockroach) even though there was a teabag and sugar. The prisoner took back the water bottle that he had passed through the horizontal opening in the door without any of us having taken it.
We sat and waited again. Around 7 p.m. or earlier, we were taken down to the entry hall. On our way we ran into two imprisoned boys who were violently hitting and biting each other. I told Hadar and Eliana to hurry up to avoid the escalating disorder, the female warden trying unsuccessfully to separate the fighting boys. The space in the stairwell was isolated and the atmosphere menacing, with no one coming to help the warden. Finally the warden managed to take over and control the boys. She opened the door and we left the closed staircase.
We were taken into the detention cell and waited to be transported to court. In a smaller cell, we were then body searched. We were shackled hands and feet and taken out to the police van. We waited half an hour inside the tiny cell in the van, and then began the road to court, where we arrived at 8:45 a.m. We were brought into the female detainee cell. It was a small (about 12 sq. m.) and cold cell, and the conditions were even more appalling and humiliating than at Ohalei Keidar Prison. Here the toilet was separated by a low wall so all day cold air streamed into the cell. The concrete benches were not suitable for lengthy sitting. In spite of our fatigue, we had to jump and move ourselves in order to keep warm.
At about 11 a.m. we were taken out of the cell. We put our hands through an opening in the door and had the policemen shackle them. When out of the cell our feet were chained as well. We took about ten steps or perhaps less and entered a small room where we met Salem, a lawyer who also brought news from the village. He told us about the crowds that rushed there in the evening and the campfires they lit. He said that by morning, many people arrived at the village as well. The police did not approach them and the JNF people stopped working because there was a court order to suspend work for the time being. These tidings raised our spirits. We came out of the room, took a few steps, and our feet were unchained. We moved to another room and had our hands unshackled. We sat and waited for the court session about extending our detention . We seemed to be waiting forever!
All the while, the boy who had been bitten and other prisoners held in nearby cells were screaming and crying “Nachshon, Nachshon!” (a general name for wardens, all belonging to a unit called “Nachshon”), “Get me a cigarette!” “What’s the time now?” etc.
At noontime, around 12:30, we were told once again to hold out our hands through the door and have them shackled. We got out of the room, our feet were chained again, and we were taken to the detention hall. Before our entry to the court room the shackles were taken off.
Some shared a bench with other detainees, others remained standing, and the session began. Our lawyer claimed that given that an activist suspect of hitting a policeman was released, we should be released as well since we were suspect merely of disobeying legal instructions and interfering a policeman at work. Our lawyer’s arguments were not accepted. The police prosecutor announced that charges against us would be filed in an hour so there was no room for a preliminary session. We were taken out for a brief break to allow the police prosecutor to find out whether charges were indeed being prepared. Our hands were shackled again. After waiting for about 15 minutes, the session was resumed and our hands unshackled. Then we learned that four of us (Hadar, Eliana, Amos ans Mumtaz) were not being charged and would be released. I was glad that Hadar and Eliana were free to return to their homes. I was sad to find out that my own arrest would continue and could not bear the thought of remaining in jail until my release. We got out, shackled again, and led back to the detention room. Hadar and Eliana waited for two very long hours before their release.
At 5:30 p.m. the court session to extend custody began. This time it was presided over by a different judge. I remained in the detention cell and only at the end of the hearing did the police remember to bring me in. As in the morning session, the court was full of activists and friends. Again I went through the shackling, chaining, slow and painful passage to the courtroom, unshackling. The judge said he would extend custody until Thursday. Our lawyer objected and explained that there was no justification for further custody. The judge replied that he would consider the request and rule on it, but only at the end of the day following the remainder of the scheduled sessions.
Once again we were taken to the cells. It was another long wait inside. Aziz, Sleiman and Ahmad waited as well. Chamzah, on the other hand, remained in the courtroom. The detention area constantly resounded with the cries “Nachshon”, “Mengisto”, “cigarette”…
Around 8 p.m. we were hauled into the hall yet again. This time, there was a blackout, and we were led in total darkness through the back corridors into the courtroom. The judge instructed to release us on bail on the condition that we stayed away from Al Arakib. Aziz objected vehemently, and finally the judge ruled to unconditionally release us.
We were taken back to detention, where the prisoners and detainees were being prepared for their return to Ohalei Keidar Prison. Slowly they all left, and we remained in the two separate detention cells. I heard Aziz or someone else lose his patience, since time passed and no one came to release us. I continued pacing my cell, trying to pass the time and warm up my bones.
Then, close to 9:30 p.m., we were released. Friends, people from Al Arakib and activists of the Negev Coexistence Forum and family waited for us outside. I realized the nightmare was over and I was back to the life that had been taken away from me for over 24 hours.
The transition between the two worlds—from that of an ordinary citizen who allegedly enjoyed rights which could not be violated, to that of detention that deprived me of all my rights where I could be held in a cell in appalling conditions and dependent upon the good will of prison wardens and policemen—was harsh. The world collapsed in a moment. This detention was also fake, intended to deter us activists from supporting and showing solidarity to Al Arakib and its inhabitants, victims of horrendous injustice.
The trial, scheduled for February 1st, 2011, will burden personal and family life and is intended to deter activists. All of this is done under the auspices of law and police violence. After a complaint I filed with the Police Internal Investigations Department (following my previous arrest) was closed without any results, and my appeal was turned down, I decided that this time there was no point in lodging another complaint.
* On Monday, January 31st 2011, the authorities destroyed Al Arakib for the 11th time, and bulldozers began to prepare the ground for tree planting, on behalf of the JNF.
** Haia Noach, director of the Negev Co-existence Forum.