AL-ARAQIB, Negev (Ma'an) -- Saba Ismail Araqib, heavily pregnant, strides purposefully around the ruins of her destroyed village in the Negev desert of southern Israel.
"This tent was demolished a few weeks ago, and this one was my father's house," she says, gesturing to broken wooden beams and tarpaulin strewn around the dusty hill, until reaching her flattened marital home on the edge of the plateau.
The traces of the formerly thriving Bedouin village of al-Araqib are now all but abandoned. With Israeli forces demolishing its buildings 41 times since 2010, Saba, 35, says just three families remain.
They are now huddled near the village cemetery, where Bedouins from across the Negev region are buried. The family says it has court assurances that the cemetery will be safe from the Israeli forces that circuit the village every day.
"Even if we have to live amongst our dead, we will never leave this village," Saba says.
The government classifies approximately 40 villages in the Negev as unrecognized, arguing that the 53,000 Palestinian Bedouins living there cannot prove land ownership. The Bedouin communities say the land is their ancestral home.
Most of al-Araqib's families have now joined neighbors and relatives in nearby communities, exhausted by the constant destruction and resurrection of their livelihoods. Israel has created seven purpose-built towns in the Negev to house the desert's demolished communities.
But for Saba, accepting displacement is unconscionable. "When I visit relatives in town, I can't stay more than two hours. I can't breathe in this environment of closed doors."
"I was born here and grew up herding sheep in this land," she says, as her 96-year-old grandmother, whose face bears traditional tattoos, looks on.
Al-Araqib is not connected to the water network, so when the wells run
dry residents purchase water by the tank. (MaanImages/Eva Pilipp)
"This used to be a real village, we had trees, houses, and each person had a bedroom," Saba remembers, leafing through photo albums showing the village's recent history as a smart, tidy desert village.
In July 2010, as a court deadline expired, hundreds of forces stormed the village to demolish every one of its buildings for the first time.
"I will never forget this day in all my life," Saba says of the raid. "Busloads of Israeli forces came and surrounded the village over two hours, our crops were set alight, and everything was destroyed."
"Throughout the world, things are always harder on mothers. I wait every day in panic until my five children return from school."
Saba, 35, says she wants her daughters to continue their
education. She married at age 16. (MaanImages/Eva Pilipp)
The Israeli security forces who have since returned 40 times to pull down their reconstructed shacks "have no idea what they are doing," she says, noting the contrast with Israeli activists who hold rallies to support the village in a nearby town every week.
After the 1948 war, Israel ordered Bedouins in the Negev from their villages and declared them state land, Israeli rights groups say.
The al-Araqib residents say they have family papers proving land purchase prior to the founding of Israel, but according to Bedouin Israeli parliament member Taleb Sana the papers don't count as they did not enter the official Ottoman registry.
"The Israeli government chose this reason (in the al-Araqib case) ... but no Bedouin has ever succeeded in an Israeli court," Sana told Ma'an.
"These are the courts of thieves, there is no way (the Israeli government) will give back the land they stole," he said.
"Even if we have to live amongst our dead, we will
never leave this village." (MaanImages/Eva Pilipp)
The Jewish National Fund, an Israeli state-run agency, plans to use al-Araqib to plant a pine forest and build a nature reserve, partly through the use of funds from Christian Zionist broadcaster God TV.
But Saba makes a clear distinction between JNF's stated aim of environmental protection, and the relationship of her Bedouin community to the environment. "Israel doesn't use trees for living, just for looking ... while our trees bear fruit, this land is our livelihood."
The Bedouins have a right to preserve al-Araqib's ancient way of life, she insists. "To live and depend on ourselves, without being exploited ... this is our right."
Pine saplings are being planted by the JNF on the surrounding land as al-Araqib shrinks.
But Saba has a tenacious hope. Her daughter, due to be born in one week, will be named Al-Araqib. "The name does not just mean this land, but the story of my life."
Israeli forces have demolished Al-Araqib's buildings
41 times since July 2010. (MaanImages/Eva Pilipp)