Bedouin lawmaker seeks change through new Israeli government

Lawmaker Saeed Alkhrumi, 49, hails from the Bedouin heartland in the Negev Desert, where tens of thousands of people live in unrecognized villages. (File/AP)
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Updated 01 July 2021
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Bedouin lawmaker seeks change through new Israeli government

  • Alkhrumi’s party made history by becoming the first Arab faction to sit in an Israeli government.
  • The Arab community, including the Bedouin, makes up 20 percent of Israel’s population

JERUSALEM: In the weeks before his Arab party made history in Israel by joining the ruling coalition, Saeed Alkhrumi says his relatives and neighbors were notified that their homes would be demolished.

It was a stark illustration of the challenge ahead for the United Arab List, a small Islamist party that played a key role in forming Israel’s fragile new government and now hopes to secure gains for the Arab minority, including the impoverished Bedouin community in the south.

Alkhrumi, 49, hails from the Bedouin heartland in the Negev Desert, where tens of thousands of people live in unrecognized villages that are largely cut off from basic services and where homes and other structures have been built without legal permits, putting them at risk of demolition by Israeli authorities.

In recent years, Israel has sought to relocate the Bedouin to established towns, saying it would allow the state to provide modern services and improve their quality of life. The Bedouin view such efforts as a way of uprooting them from their ancestral lands, disrupting their traditional way of life and confining them to impoverished, crime-ridden communities.

Israeli plans to establish new communities catering to Jews on lands from which the Bedouin are being evicted have led many to fear Israel is replicating its settlement activities in the occupied territories, with the aim of displacing the Bedouin and changing the region’s demographics.

Alkhrumi has spent years negotiating with the government to recognize some of the Bedouin villages but says such efforts were repeatedly stymied during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year reign, when right-wing parties dominated the state and its bureaucracy.

The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, a rights group that closely tracks demolitions, says they spiked from 697 in 2013 to 2,586 last year, when the country was coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

“When Netanyahu came to power he increased the number of demolitions by a factor of 10,” Alkhrumi said. “Only a country in a state of war would demolish as many homes as are demolished in the Negev.”

He says his own relatives were given demolition orders in the weeks before the new government was approved by parliament and sworn in on June 13. He abstained for “private reasons,” he said, but his party provided the crucial margin in the 60-59 vote.

Alkhrumi says the new government is on track to eventually recognize eight villages, which would remove the threat of demolition and give them access to services.

“The extreme right realized these eight villages would be recognized, or maybe even more, that there would be progress and solutions for people, and they didn’t want it,” he said. “They issued hundreds of demolition orders in two weeks and they launched a media campaign against me.”

Now that the UAL has made history by becoming the first Arab party to join a governing coalition, Alkhrumi hopes to continue the negotiations and work with other parties to improve conditions in the south.

“I want the Arab Bedouin of the Negev to choose their way of life,” he said. “Those who want to live a traditional, agricultural life as Bedouin should have the opportunity to do so on their own land. What’s the problem?“

Regavim, a right-wing group that describes itself as committed to a “Zionist vision,” says the Bedouin can’t expect the government to provide services to “illegal squatters’ camps” established without any central planning.

“The state of Israel wants to give them all of the benefits of living in a modern Western society. The only way to do that is to collect people in some way,” said Naomi Kahn, head of the group’s international division. “You can’t both expect the state to give you all of the services that it provides and refuse to obey any of the rules of the state.”

The UAL is also hoping to use its political leverage to assist Israel’s non-Bedouin Arab minority, by securing larger budgets for housing, infrastructure and law enforcement, and by resisting or rolling back discriminatory legislation.

The Arab community, including the Bedouin, makes up 20 percent of Israel’s population. They have citizenship, including the right to vote, but face widespread discrimination. They have close familial ties to the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, and largely identify with their cause, leading many Israelis to view them with suspicion.

Alkhrumi has no illusions about the challenge his party faces. The coalition includes eight parties from across the political spectrum. Three right-wing parties joined out of desperation to oust Netanyahu and avoid another election after four votes in less than two years.

“It’s an experiment,” Alkhrumi said. “Can we influence the government to benefit our society and exploit the political conditions that exist, or do we keep to ourselves. The easiest thing is to stay back and say I won’t get involved.

Then we have elections, and maybe the right comes back and we get Netanyahu again.”


Libya’s eastern government postpones Derna reconstruction conference

Updated 01 October 2023
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Libya’s eastern government postpones Derna reconstruction conference

BENGHAZI: Libya’s eastern authorities on Sunday announced the postponement of a reconstruction conference for the flood-hit city of Derna that had been planned for October 10 but was met with international skepticism.
The conference was put off until November 1-2 to “give companies and design offices the necessary time to prepare their projects,” the committee charged with planning the meeting said in a statement.


Yemen’s state-run airline suspends only route out of Sanaa over Houthi restrictions on its funds

Updated 01 October 2023
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Yemen’s state-run airline suspends only route out of Sanaa over Houthi restrictions on its funds

  • Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa to the Jordanian capital of Amman
  • Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country

CAIRO: Yemen’s state-run carrier has suspended the only air route out of the country’s rebel-held capital to protest Houthi restrictions on its funds, officials said Sunday.
Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa’s international airport to the Jordanian capital of Amman. The airline had been operating six commercial and humanitarian flights a week between Sanaa and Amman as of the end of September.
The Sanaa-Amman air route was reintroduced last year as part of a UN-brokered cease-fire between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government. The cease-fire agreement expired in October 2022, but the warring factions refrained from taking measures that would lead to a flare-up of all-out fighting.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the government into exile.
The airline blamed the Iranian-backed Houthis for the move because they were withholding $80 million in the company’s funds in Houthi-controlled banks in Sanaa. It said in a statement on Saturday that the rebels rejected a proposal to release 70 percent of the funds. The statement said the airline’s sales in Sanaa exceed 70 percent of its revenues.
The statement said the Houthi ban on the funds was linked to “illegal and unreasonable demands, and caused severe damage to the airline’s activities.”
The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency quoted an unnamed source condemning the airline’s move. The source was quoted as saying that the rebels offered to release 60 percent of the airline’s funds in Sanaa.
Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country. The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
The dispute between the Houthis and the national airline comes as the rebels and Saudi Arabia have appeared close to a peace agreement in recent months. Saudi Arabia received a Houthi delegation last month for peace talks, saying the negotiations had “positive results.”
The Saudi-Houthi efforts, however, were overshadowed by an attack blamed on the Houthis last week that killed four Bahraini troops who were part of a coalition force patrolling Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
The Houthis, meanwhile, barred four activists from the Mwatana for Human Rights group from boarding their flight at Sanaa airport on Saturday “without providing legal justification,” group said.
It said that Houthi officials interrogated Mwatana’s chairperson Radhya Al-Mutawakel, her deputy and three other members before telling them that they were barred from travel according to “higher orders.”
A spokesman for the rebels was not immediately available for comment.
Mwatana said the ban was “just one episode in a long series of violations” by the rebels at the Sanaa airport on land routes linking rebel-held areas with other parts of Yemen.
The rebels also rounded up dozens of people who took to the streets last month in the Houthi-held areas, including Sanaa, to commemorate the anniversary of Yemen’s Sep. 26 revolution, which marks the establishment of Yemen’s republic in 1962, Amnesty International said.
“It is outrageous that demonstrators commemorating a national historical moment found themselves attacked, arrested, and facing charges simply because they were waving flags,” Amnesty said, and called on Houthis to immediately release those detained.


Turkiye says terrorists set off bomb at Ankara government building

Updated 01 October 2023
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Turkiye says terrorists set off bomb at Ankara government building

  • Blast was the first in Ankara since 2016, and comes on the day that parliament was set to open a new session.

ANKARA: Turkiye’s government said on Sunday two terrorists carried out a bomb attack in front of the Interior Ministry buildings in Ankara, adding one of them died in the explosion and the other was “neutralized” by authorities there.

An explosion was heard near the parliament and ministerial buildings, Turkish media had earlier reported, and broadcasters showed footage of debris scattered on a street nearby.

The blast was the first in Ankara since 2016, and comes on the day that parliament was set to open a new session.

Reuters footage showed soldiers, ambulances, fire trucks and armored vehicles gathered at the ministry near the center of Turkiye’s capital.

Ali Yerlikaya, the interior minister, said on social media platform X that two police officers were slightly injured in the incident at 9:30 a.m. (0630 GMT).

“Two terrorists came with a light commercial vehicle in front of the entrance gate of the General Directorate of Security of our Ministry of Internal Affairs and carried out a bomb attack,” he said.

He added that one blew himself up and the other was “neutralized,” which usually means was killed. “Our struggle will continue until the last terrorist is neutralized,” Yerlikaya wrote.

Police also announced they would carry out controlled explosions for “suspicious package incidents” in other parts of Ankara.

Authorities did not identify any specific militant group.

The blast comes almost a year after six people were killed and 81 wounded in an explosion in a busy pedestrian street in central Istanbul. Turkiye blamed Kurdish militants for that.

During a spate of violence in 2015 and 2016, Kurdish militants, Islamic State and other groups either claimed or were blamed for several attacks in major Turkish cities. In March 2016, 37 people were killed in Ankara when a bomb-laden car exploded at a crowded central transport hub.

Ankara’s chief prosecutor launched an investigation on Sunday into what it also called a terrorist attack.

President Tayyip Erdogan was set at 7:30 p.m. to attend the opening of parliament, which in the coming weeks is expected to consider ratifying Sweden’s bid to join NATO after Turkiye had raised initial objections.

Turkish media reported that authorities were carrying out checks of the parliament after the blast at the ministry. A source said that the entrance was open but no cars were allowed through as part of the precautions.


Dozens arrested as protesters mark Iran’s ‘Bloody Friday’: Activists

Updated 01 October 2023
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Dozens arrested as protesters mark Iran’s ‘Bloody Friday’: Activists

  • The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year

PARIS: Iranian security forces made dozens of arrests Saturday as protesters in the southeast commemorated the killing of dozens of demonstrators in the region one year ago, human rights groups said.
At least 104 people were killed, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO, in what is known as “Bloody Friday,” when security forces fired on a protest in Zahedan, the main city of Sistan-Baluchistan province, on September 30 last year.
The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year.
The Zahedan protests were triggered by reports a teenage girl had been raped in custody by a police commander and took place in parallel to nationwide demonstrations sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.
Activists have long complained that the ethnic Baluch population in Sistan-Baluchistan, who adhere to Sunni Islam not the Shiite branch of the faith dominant in Iran, suffer from discrimination.
Security forces fired tear gas and live rounds for a second straight day to disperse protesters who turned out in Zahedan to mark the anniversary, the Baluch-focused rights group Haalvsh said.
Throughout Saturday, businesses in Zahedan and other towns observed a general strike, it said, adding that “dozens” of people had been arrested.
The group posted footage with the sound of gunfire clearly audible amid a heavy security presence in the city.
Security forces had already used live fire to disperse protesters on Friday, wounding at least 25 people, including children, according to the Baloch Activists Campaign group. There was no immediate word on any casualties in Saturday’s unrest.
Even as the protest movement dwindled elsewhere in Iran, residents of Zahedan have held regular Friday protests throughout the past 12 months.
The city’s Friday prayer leader, Molavi Abdolhamid, who has been outspoken in his support of the protests over the past year, issued a new call for justice over “Bloody Friday,” telling the faithful to “know your rights.”
Footage posted on social media on Friday showed chaotic scenes as hospitals filled with injured, including children, while people on the streets sought to escape to safety amid the sound of heavy gunfire.
IHR said that the protests in Zahedan and other cities were again “brutally crushed” with authorities using “live ammunition, pellet bullets and tear gas against unarmed protesters.”
The executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, condemned the “horrifying display of indiscriminate violence... as the state attempts to suppress peaceful demonstrations.”
“It is imperative for the international community to shine a spotlight on this violence and to hold Iranian officials accountable in international courts, invoking the principle of international jurisdiction,” he said.


No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict

Updated 01 October 2023
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No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict

  • South Sudan is no stranger to humanitarian crisis, having had its own share since achieving statehood in 2011
  • Experts say the country is in no position to handle the large and sudden influx of displaced people from Sudan

NAIROBI: Civilians displaced by the conflict in Sudan have sought sanctuary in the world’s youngest country next door, the Republic of South Sudan, only to face a daunting new set of challenges.

An estimated 250,000 people — including a large number of South Sudanese who had been living in Sudan — have crossed the border since fighting erupted in Sudan in April, with many now housed in overcrowded camps lacking food, sanitation and basic healthcare services.

High malnutrition rates and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and measles among the new arrivals testify to the dire health conditions, which aid agencies operating in the area say is one of the many serious causes for concern.

Luggage is transported on a donkey-drawn cart at Sudan’s Qalabat border crossing with Ethiopia on July 31, 2023 amid fighting between the Sudan armed forces and paramilitary RSF. (AFP file photo)

The UN has given warning that the number of people fleeing Sudan could double by the end of the year unless a settlement between the warring parties is reached soon.

Aside from being unprepared to absorb this tide of humanity in search of shelter and sustenance, South Sudan’s own political and economic shortcomings render it an ineffective broker in ending the conflict in Sudan.

This is despite the mediation efforts of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who recently hosted Sudan’s de-facto leader and head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in the capital Juba.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, right, welcomes Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council and Sudan’s armed force chief, in Juba, South Sudan, on Sept. 04, 2023. (Handout photo via Getty Images)

South Sudan is no stranger to hardship and adversity, having had its fair share of conflicts since gaining independence in 2011. Like its northern neighbor, from which it seceded, South Sudan is also grappling with political volatility and ethnic strife.

Add to the mix South Sudan’s limited resources and rudimentary infrastructure, and the country is in no position to handle such a large and sudden influx of impoverished people.

“The majority of these refugees are women, children, and young adults, with a notable concentration of youth between the ages of 12 and 22,” John Dabi, South Sudan’s deputy commissioner for refugee affairs, told Arab News.

INNUMBERS

250,000 Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese returnees who have crossed the border since the conflict began.

5 million Total number of people uprooted by the conflict, including 1 million who have fled to neighboring countries.

7,500 People killed since the onset of violence, according to conservative estimates of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Particularly, Juba and the border town of Renk have come under pressure from a sudden explosion in population, which has led to an acute shortage of basic necessities, including food, medicine and shelter.

Then there is the impact of a fickle climate, as South Sudan’s rainy season leads to the flooding of entire districts and turns roads into impassable mud tracks, hindering aid deliveries and access to remote refugee camps.

Predictably, South Sudan’s economy is a shambles, despite the recent launch of the National Economic Conference, which is meant to accelerate development.

A boy walks at a camp for displaced persons in Bentiu, South Sudan. (AFP file photo)

Firas Raad, the World Bank representative in South Sudan, recently urged the government to strive for more stable macroeconomic conditions, robust public financial management, and effective governance reforms to improve conditions for its people.

The parlous state of the country’s economy calls into question Juba’s credibility as a mediator in Sudan’s conflict, Suzanne Jambo, a South Sudanese policy analyst and former government adviser, told Arab News.

“South Sudan still struggles to achieve a stable transition to a permanent status, including a unified army, agreed-upon constitutional arrangements, and fairly elected representatives, not to mention conducting the elections,” she said.

Instability in South Sudan is not just attributable to issues of governance and economics. The ethnic and tribal spillovers of the Sudanese conflict are all too evident, with millions fleeing to neighboring countries and exposing the political divisions within Sudan and along its porous borders.

For instance, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group has been recruiting fighters from among Darfur’s Arab tribes.

Internally displaced women fetch water from a well in Bentiu in South Sudan. (AFP file photo)

Given the possibility of further escalation of ethnic tensions, experts believe coordinated efforts are essential for the proper distribution of humanitarian aid as well as conflict prevention and resolution strategies.

Sudanese civilians arriving in South Sudan represent a mosaic of backgrounds mirroring the country’s ethnic, racial and religious diversity. To minimize the chances of inter-communal violence, separate settlements, rather than traditional refugee camps, have been established.

“A critical aspect of managing the refugee crisis is preventing inter-community conflicts,” said Dabi, the deputy commissioner for refugee affairs. However, the most pressing issue facing displaced Sudanese in South Sudan is the scarcity of essential resources, he added.

The situation of people who crossed over from Sudan into other neighboring countries appears to be equally dire.

In Chad, where more than 400,000 people have fled the violence in Darfur, aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres says the situation has become so desperate that “people are feeding their children on insects, grass, and leaves.”

People wait next to passenger buses as smoke billows in an area in Khartoum where fighting between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary forces continues to this day. (AFP file photo)

Amid severe shortages, “some have gone five weeks without receiving food,” Susana Borges, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Adre, said in a statement. Camps also lack water, sanitation, shelter, and medical care.

“The most urgent health needs we are dealing with are malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition,” Borges added. According to the UN, dozens of children under the age of five have already died of malnutrition in Chadian camps.

The conflict in Sudan, now in its fifth month, was triggered by a plan to incorporate the RSF into the SAF.

On April 15 a long-running power struggle between the Al-Burhan and his former deputy, RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, suddenly escalated, prompting the evacuation of foreign nationals and embassy staff.

At least 7,500 people have been killed since the conflict began, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, and the troubled western Darfur region, where the worst of the violence has been taking place, have seen “intensified shelling” as the SAF and the RSF target each other’s bases with “artillery and rocket fire.”

Black smoke billows behind buildings amid ongoing fighting in Khartoum. (AFP)

In central Khartoum, the SAF controls the skies and has carried out regular air strikes, while RSF fighters dominate the streets.

In South Darfur’s regional capital, Nyala, residents say fighter jets have been targeting “RSF leadership.” However, reports from the ground suggest civilians are routinely caught in the crossfire.

UN figures show the fighting has uprooted more than five million people from their homes, including one million who have crossed international borders into neighboring countries.

Over the weekend, a cholera outbreak was reported in eastern Sudan and investigations launched to check whether it had spread to Khartoum and South Kordofan state.

A street vendor sells shoes and slippers in Port Sudan, Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2023. (REUTERS)

The conflict has also seen a surge in gender-based violence, as confirmed by numerous credible reports of rape, human trafficking, and increase in early marriage.

Despite multiple diplomatic efforts to broker a truce, the conflict has continued and intensified, leaving those displaced with little prospect of returning to their homes any time soon.

As South Sudan struggles to accommodate its own citizens previously living in Sudan, a recent visit to the country by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, suggests the international community is taking notice.

However, Peter Van der Auweraert, the UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, has cautioned there could be a significant decline in humanitarian assistance for the country next year.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says humanitarian aid organizations are struggling to meet the needs of the displaced, with only 19 percent of the $1 billion requested from donors so far received.