[The following piece from the “bustan” organization indicates that a movement is underway to fight against further Israeli Jewish settlement in the Negev-db]

Another 1,200 acres of Bedouin crops in the Negev are destroyed this week. Is this Ben Gurion’s dream, to ‘make Israel’s desert bloom’?

Hundreds of soldiers, border police, tractors, helicopters, and horses awakened the winter season’s farmers and their families, just north of Beer Sheva. Overturning food crops with heavy government-chartered machinery, the renowned ‘Green Patrol’ began its work at clearning the Negev land. (see below)

Israel is acting illegally and bypassing formal statutory channels, as these lands have not been adjudicated to date. Adalah petitioned Israel’s High Court against crop-spraying operations on behalf of the families affected, as well as Bustan and 8 other NGO’s in March 2004. An injunction was issued against the fumigations. (see below) However, being a resourceful country, Israel has returned to its former method of “redeeming” the land from its non-Jewish cultivators: overturning it with tractors. Overturning fields or spraying food crops with Monsanto’s Roundup are not effective methods for resolving legal disputes with the Bedouin over land ownership.

In February 2004, deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert was reported in Ha’aretz as telling a convention of the Jewish National Fund that the state “will displace unrecognized Bedouin communities in order to make room for thousands of Jews.” Bustan challenges the Israel Land’s Authority and relevant government ministries in their widespread tractor destruction of Bedouin-cultivated wheat fields. While designed ‘to prevent Bedouin encroachment from State Land,’ this political measure aims to displace and further pauperize Bedouin farmers while clearing the inhabited Negev land. The land is then reserved in an unused land tank for industrial expansion or future Jewish settlement. The Negev is 65% of the land base of Israel. It is the largest and the least populated region of Israel. There is enough room for Bedouin and Jewish citizens to coexist there, even if Jewish communities worldwide, and Gazan settlers, and their sizable, extended families are all relocated there. This is not the way to settle the Last Frontier, it is the way to exacerbate the schism among Negev Jews and an unrecognized, severely disenfranchised minority, the Negev Bedouin.

Bustan joins other NGO’s in demanding that those responsible for the fumigations should be brought to trial, and Bedouin farmers affected by any means of government authorized crop-destruction should be fully compensated.

Many of you have met Nuri Elokbi on Bustan’s critical tours of the Negev. His fields were sprayed. Below is his press release, and relevant links for further information on crop destruction. We are collecting organic seeds for distribution to the families.

Devorah Brous

Negev Bedouin to sue the state for massive crop destruction

After taking legal advice, Bedouin inhabitants of the Negev intend to sue the government of Israel for major damages, following a massive destruction of their crops by government-chartered tractors earlier this week.

The Bedouin are not squatters. They are peaceful farmers, citizens of the state of Israel since it was first established and who had worked their land for many generations before that, who are in possession of all the necessary documents, and who had asserted their ownership of the land in a document submitted to the Ministry of Justice as long as 40 years ago.

On February 1 this week, in the early hours of the morning, the state “organized” itself for the purpose of assaulting its Bedouin citizens, in order to ruin their agricultural work on their land. Thus they destroyed close to 5000 dunams (about 1200 acres) belonging to the Elokbi, Altori, Abu Madigum and Abu Siam tribes.

Personnel of the government’s Land Office and the “Green Patrol” invaded the Bedouin land, accompanied by hundreds of ordinary policemen, Border Policemen and fully armed and equipped soldiers, having at their disposal everything from horses to helicopters. They had all come to convoy and guard the demolition contractors, who had the best of agricultural equipment – which they used not in order to prepare the land for planting, but on the contrary to destroy and ruin the agricultural work of their Bedouin fellow citizens.

This act is clearly illegal. It is illegal even under the recently enacted “Squatter Removal Amendment” whose whole purpose is evicting and removing the Bedouin citizens of Israel from their land – land which is deemed to be “state land” regardless of the generations that they lived and worked on it. Even under this harsh and manifestly unjust law, the government is supposed to give the inhabitants a warning in advance and give them time to protest or challenge the act in a court of law. This requirement the government arrogantly ignored, sending their troops in without any warning.

The Bedouins do not intend to ignore this criminal act, the destruction of their agriculture and the threat to evict them from the land. “We will demand compensation from the state for the damage done to us by its agents, and insist on an assurance of the full rights of the Bedouin population.

We stand upon our right to hold on to and to work our land and property. Further info: Nuri Elokbi, Association Chair +972-54-5465556

Adalah Press Release on Crop Spraying Injunction- October 2004

On 19 October 2004, the Supreme Court of Israel issued an order nisi (an order to show cause) on a petition filed by Adalah on 22 March 2004, instructing the state to provide an explanation within two months for the crop spraying operations carried out by the respondents – The Israel Lands Administration (ILA), the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and the Ministry of Agriculture – in unrecognized Arab villages in the Naqab (Negev). The Court also extended an injunction it had previously issued on 23 March 2004, prohibiting the respondents or any other entity appointed by them from aerially spraying the crops in question. The ILA had used a chemical called ROUNDUP for spraying crops from the air in the Naqab, destroying thousands of dunams of land over a period of almost two years. The ILA issued no warnings, either before or after the spraying.

The petition was submitted by Adalah on behalf of four Arab Bedouin individuals, one of whom was injured by the spraying and three of whom had crops destroyed by the ILA; Physicians for Human Rights-Israel; the Association of Forty; the Forum for Co-Existence in the Negev; the Negev Company for Land & Man, Ltd.; Bustan; the Association for Support and Defense of Bedouin Rights in Israel; the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA); the Galilee Society; and Adalah. The petitioners sought an order from the Court to stop the ILA from spraying the crops, as these acts constitute a danger to the life and health of human beings and animals, as well as to the environment and the crops, which are the Palestinian Bedouins’ only source of livelihood.

The AG’s legal representative also contended in her response to the petition that spraying the crops is legal, and a useful and cost-effective means for solving the problem of Arab Bedouin “trespassers,” who are allegedly “creeping” onto state-owned lands in the Naqab. She claimed that in the past, the ILA used to come to the fields with tractors and police in order to destroy the crops. However, they were met with resistance – both protests and physical confrontations – by the Arab Bedouin farmers, and therefore decided to spray the fields from the air. Justice Levy stated at the hearing that the central issue appears to be a dispute over land. He suggested that the Arab Bedouin farmers pay the ILA to lease the land, without relating to the issue of title or ownership.

The petitioners further argued that the ILA’s spraying of the crops violates the right to life, the right to health, and the right to dignity under both domestic and international law. The ILA has no authority to destroy the crops, regardless of the legal status of the land in question, Adalah emphasized. The Law for the Protection of Plants – 1956 governs the issue of crop spraying. The purpose of the law is to protect health and the environment; it grants sole authority to the Minister of Agriculture to further this purpose. If the Minister grants a permit to another entity regarding these matters, it may only be given for this purpose; the ILA’s purpose – to enforce the state’s claimed right to land – and its actions in spraying and destroying the crops do not further this purpose. Moreover, Adalah contended that the ILA is also violating regulations made pursuant to this law, which prohibit the spraying of chemicals from the air if nearby plants could be damaged. They also mandate that if poisonous chemicals are sprayed, it must be done in accordance with the instructions and the warnings on the material. Adalah further argued that the ILA’s spraying of the crops constitutes criminal offenses. These actions violate the Penal Law – 1977, specifically, Article 336 (Use of a dangerous toxin) and Article 452 (Malicious damage).