encounter no. 118 – June 19, 2020

That’s right, we meet at our Migdalor (“lighthouse”) every Friday in order to preserve our awareness of Gaza. That Gazans would know that we’re not forgetting, and that we remember that people there are suffering and we should support them in any possible way, even if only morally.
But today was different somehow. Yesterday the destruction equipment of the Israel Land Administration demolished 3 structures at Al Zarnouk, an unrecognized Bedouin village situated about 12 kilometers east of Beer Sheva. Jaber comes from Al Zarnouk.
Usually when Jaber introduces himself in our circle, says he comes from an unrecognized village, but in spite of all the problems he faces as a Bedouin citizen of Israel whose rights are trampled constantly, he still knows that his life is considered rather good compared to that of the Gazans. But today, after the home demolitions in his own community, his feelings of frustration and rage are practically uncontrollable. Jaber is on the verge of tears. He speaks of his attempts to apply to the authorities to suspend demolitions, about the mental damage to families and residents, about the attempts to injure the Negev Arab society. Desperately he emphasizes the mean cynicism in the appointment of Yair Ma’ayan – the man who founded and is CEO of Regavim, an organization aimed at harassing any attempt by a non-Jew to settle in the country – to the office of CEO of “The Authority for Development and Settlement of Bedouins in the Negev”… Ironically, this is the authority that is supposed to be the one which Bedouins turn to when someone is to solve their problems. Jaber feels guilty for not having been able to prevent the destruction.
Coincidentally or not, today’s topic of discussion is “home”… After Jaber speaks, everyone remains silent.
Then Rami says he too feels guilty that such things take place while we relax at home. Home and land are certainly important, but it’s important for us to be there for each other. My home is your home, as the saying goes, as Rami says to Jaber.
Shmulik tells us that in the 2011 social protest demonstrations he joined one of the public discussions and said there that state funds go to settler-colonies instead of where they are most needed. He was kicked out of the discussion and accused of being a communist…
Ghadir says that Arabs have to struggle over every centimeter of living space, there are home demolitions by the state taking place every single day.
Miri comes from the religious Zionist sector. The community she was born in was founded on the ruins of Palestinian village Sawafir. She studied at Bar Ilan University (Israel’s religious institution of higher learning) and lived in the same room with a friend from Baq’a Al Gharbiya. She was often asked if she wasn’t afraid her Arab friend would kill her… She worked for years with Israeli army disabled veterans. At present, retired, she coordinates transporting Palestinian patients to hospitals in Israel, in the “Way to Recovery” association. The disengagement announced by the Palestinian Authority (caused by threats of annexation by Israel) has become a real problem, the state of ill patients in Gaza is catastrophic. Children who usually enter Israel every fortnight for treatment, and cannot return home but stay quarantined in a Gaza hotel until their next treatment… Paradoxically, the nurses at the hospital say that these children look healthier during their hotel stay than when they’re at home…
Jamal, now living in Tel Sheva, had his home demolished in 1996 right in front of his two little daughters who are now schoolteachers. He has been evicted and displaced from his home three times. In 1948 his family was divided between Gaza and Israel, was united in 1967 (he studied in Gaza), and torn apart again when Arafat came under the Oslo Accords and chased away from Gaza all Palestinians holding an Israeli ID. His father, grandfather and other family members are buried there. Jamal says that Gaza is “the world’s guinea pig”. Relating to what Jaber told us, he speaks of the initiative of inhabitants of unrecognized villages to create a regional council for 26 communities, of which only 11 are officially recognized, and even that without most of the usual rights. Bedouins constitute 36% of the Negev population, and inhabit 2.3% of its area…
Dina says the problems should be treated fundamentally. She identifies with Jaber. She uses words like “injustice”, “lost opportunities” and “indirect communication”, and thinks the right bodies need be approached…
Nahshi is here to remind himself that right here, close by in Gaza, there are people who need our help and it’s good for them to realize we’re here every week. Nahshi thinks that here in Israel we are able to do more to oppose organizations like Regavim and says he will be at the demonstration on Monday!
Shelly recalls the first time in her life when she felt a sense of injustice, in the kibbutz children’s house where she grew up… She is well-versed in the Negev Bedouins’ history and adds important details. She speaks of a friend in Hebron whose home was demolished, and in desperation pushed his baby boy into the arms of the officer who “secured” the demolition operation, and told him: “Raise him yourself…” He was tried for assaulting an officer by means of a baby, and was sentenced to a long time in jail but released after 10 months for his failing health. Shelly says that another friend of hers told her we must continue doing what we can even if it does not seem to be solving anything, for perhaps the solution is right around the corner…
I like the way Uzi introduces himself: “I was born a year before the Nakba of 1948 and came to Gvulot a year before the Occupation of 1967…” Uzi is a Middle-East scholar. He says he has a lot to say but we’re close to our finishing time and makes do with saying that “Gaza is deep sorrow and a terrible miss”.
Nurit is Uzi’s sister and is with us for the first time.
Malki choose to say that the Migdal-Or (that’s how she wishes to call it – in Hebrew, literally: Tower of light) is an anchor for her. Everyone wishes to fell “at home”.
Ghadir also says that the Migdalor is home, and Jaber concludes our meeting saying we mustn’t lose hope, he feels at home here.
So do I, because it’s sort of obvious, isn’t it?
After everyone gets up Ghadir says to me quietly – we didn’t mention our arrested friends…
Participants: Jaber, Shelly, Shmulik, Rami, Ghadir, Oded, Malki8, Jamal, Uzi, Dina, Nahshi, Nurit, Miri
Wrote: Oded