Israel's Bedouin 'Spies' Fear Reprisal in Gaza
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
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.