The Washington Post Reports on a Bedouin Community Caught in a Dangerous Position

This article just came to my attention, and I have reproduced it here as it relates in multiple ways to my prior posts on the developing Bedouin situtation.

Israel’s Bedouin ‘Spies’ Fear Reprisal in Gaza

By Scott Wilson

Washington Post Foreign Service Tuesday, July 5, 2005;

A08 DAHANIYA, Gaza Strip — This collection of shabby concrete homes, hemmed in by razor wire and a military access road buzzing with Israeli army jeeps, is a village of spies.

In the shimmering near distance, an Egyptian flag flutters from a watchtower marking the sandy frontier between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, the region to which most of the 400 Arabs who live here trace their tribal roots. But for decades, the Bedouins who have formed the heart of this community have worked secretly with Israeli security services, first against the Egyptians and later the Palestinians.

Next month the Israeli government plans to withdraw from Gaza, razing this Israeli-built village along with all 21 Jewish settlements in the strip. Sweilem Arqiba, 70, is facing a less certain fate. He does not have the proper residency status to relocate to Israel after the bulldozers demolish his village, which will leave him and about half the town to live among Arab populations that view them as spies of an enemy nation.

"The Israelis will throw me in the air and I will have to fly in the sky to keep from coming down," said Arqiba, the village’s oldest resident. "If we go to Egypt or Palestine, they will slaughter us."

Surrounded by acres of makeshift animal pens, Dahaniya is one of the countless details that the Israeli government is struggling to resolve before the evacuation of Gaza, now just six weeks away. From graveyards to greenhouses, Israeli officials must decide how to uproot, relocate and resettle various populations and other legacies of its nearly four-decade presence in the Gaza Strip, a withdrawal that will cost about $1.7 billion.

Dahaniya is in a category of its own. The village has for generations been at the frontier of Israel’s conflict with its Arab neighbors and has shrunk with each Israeli effort to roll back from territories it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. Now on the verge of disappearing altogether, the town is appealing to the Israeli government to treat its residents the same way officials are treating the estimated 8,500 Jewish settlers scheduled for evacuation.

In a petition filed last month with Israel’s Supreme Court, nearly 100 Dahaniya residents claim that the government is "discriminating unlawfully" against them because they are Arabs. The petition says the Israeli government "owes them a legal, moral and human debt to care for their security and well being" after years of having "acted actively to promote the security of the state."

"As a result, the residents of Dahaniya are regarded among the Palestinian public and the Arab world as supporters of the state of Israel and as collaborators with it in its struggle against the Palestinians," the petition states. It warns that "the verdict would be death" for those prevented from settling in Israel.

Israeli officials involved in negotiations with Dahaniya residents said not everyone in the village has always worked in Israel’s interests. The Bedouins who remain collaborated against Egypt during Israel’s 1967-82 occupation of Sinai, Israeli officials said, but all those who informed on the Palestinians have since been resettled inside Israel.Villagers here said that is not correct.

About half the villagers hold Israeli identification cards that entitle them to live in Israel and receive compensation of about $14,500 per family, a package Israeli officials are working to increase. Shlomo Dror, spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, said that "from our point of view, they have helped Israel and will receive benefits provided to all collaborators."

He acknowledged that even with a hoped-for increase, the compensation would be far less than what is available to Jewish settlers, some of whom are eligible for as much as $300,000 per family.

The other half of the village population will receive less compensation and must relocate either to Gaza, run by the Palestinian Authority, or to Egypt.

Israelis suggest that not everyone who will remain deserves resettlement.

"Some of this village, from our point of view. . . have been the opposite of collaborators," Dror said. Some people are deeply involved in smuggling, the Israelis said. Whatever trouble they might face would likely grow from involvement in criminal networks, according to the officials. The border with Egypt is a common entry point for weapons flowing to Islamic radicals. The local people deny smuggling.

Eshtewi Armelat, 50, the mayor of Dahaniya, reclined on a hot day last week on cushions arranged under a shelter of burlap sacks and poles made of tree branches. Known commonly here as Abu Riad, he chain-smoked Israeli-made Time cigarettes pinched between his thumb and index finger until the ochre sand beside him bristled with butts.

A donkey brayed in an adjacent pen made of barbed wire, tin roofing, hoses and other junk. He apologized. The air conditioning in his town hall office has been broken for months, he said, and the difficulty in getting permits to enter the closed military zone has kept the technician from arriving to fix it.

"I am a citizen of Dahaniya," said Abu Riad, whose family name is the same as the tribe that was the first to arrive here in the late 1970s. "There’s no other situation like ours."

Israel originally built the village, set along a grid of six streets, for Bedouins displaced by Israeli settlements in the Sinai following the 1967 war. Most of those who came were from the Armelat tribe, which had roamed the northern Sinai for 600 years by the time the Israeli soldiers arrived. Feeling little allegiance to Egypt’s distant government in Cairo, the Armelats helped the Israelis monitor Egyptian resistance in the Sinai.

Abu Riad drove a taxi at the time, and he could zip from Jaffa to El Arish in the Sinai without crossing a single border. But the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai following the 1978 Camp David peace accords with Egypt brought changes to the village.

A barrier rose between Gaza and the peninsula in 1982, and Israel gave the residents of Dahaniya the choice of staying or returning to Sinai. Families fractured as many sons and daughters headed back to tribal lands in Sinai, again under Egyptian control.

"I don’t think anyone in the world should be separated from their families," said Abu Riad, whose children all remained in Dahaniya. "But as they say in Arabic, the boats go in the direction the wind takes them."

More than a decade later, another peace effort brought another barrier around the village. In the year before the 1993 Oslo accords placed Gaza and parts of the West Bank under Palestinian control, the Israeli government began using Dahaniya as a way station for collaborators, which prompted the military to build a security fence separating the village from Gaza’s Palestinian population.

In all, at least 400 families passed through here, most staying only a few months in a complex of tan concrete buildings on the edge of town before their relocation to Israel. The compound now sits abandoned, some of the buildings vandalized. But the village’s reputation as an enclave of Israeli spies had been firmly established among the Palestinians on the other side of the fence.

Although Israeli officials contend that Dahaniya residents are no longer used as spies, people here say they continue to work on behalf of Israeli security services. At times, men from the village disappear for weeks at a time. No one questions them when they return.

Many here, such as Odeh Armelat, have family in Gaza, relatives who decided to leave when the fence went up years ago. Armelat is planning to move near them in Rafah, hard against the Egyptian border, when he is evacuated, and contends it is a myth that everyone helped Israel. "Some people know we are not all spies against the Palestinians, some don’t," said Armelat, 63, who is concerned about his future income. "I think I’ll be sitting on a pillow with no money."

In the early afternoon, men with pants caked with soil from the cucumber and tomato fields in Israel arrive through the back gate. A tractor rumbles through mostly empty streets, pulling a trailer full of milk, eggs, soft drinks and other groceries that have been brought from Gaza after passing through Israeli military checkpoints.

"For 10 years I’ve only gone from here to work and back again," said Ashraf Armelat, 21, who works in vegetable fields in Israel but is not eligible to live there after the evacuation. "If they won’t allow us to come to Israel, I guess Egypt would be better. I’m not Palestinian."

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