ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 285

Adib Maz'al who evacuated from Arab al-Aramshe. (Dafna Talmon)
Adib Maz'al who evacuated from Arab al-Aramshe. (Dafna Talmon)

'Our connection to our home and land is integral to our culture. It's unacceptable for us to live in an apartment complex'

Adeb Mazal, 35, head of the Bedouin village Arab al-Aramshe near the Lebanese border, was evacuated to Nazareth, then Acre, then Shavei Zion ● This is his story

This is part of a series, “Uprooted.” Each column is a curated monologue from an individual among the tens of thousands of internally displaced Israelis during the war with Hamas who were evacuated from the country’s northern border and the Gaza envelope. This interview was originally published in Hebrew on June 1, 2024.

Saturday, October 7

In the early morning hours, I started getting messages about chaos in the south. I saw videos of trucks being driven around Sderot by terrorists. I thought they were fake messages that people were sharing for likes. I couldn’t believe that it was real. A few hours later, reports began to emerge of hostage-taking.

When I realized that the chaos was serious, I spoke to our head of security, Madhat Magis, a skilled member of the village and a major in the IDF. He had only become head of security a month prior.

Madhat said it was all real and he had already gotten a message to prepare. We followed the news with concern, and two days later, he told me that a group of reserve soldiers was supposed to come to us because there was a concern of heightened tensions on the northern border.

We made a large purchase of supplies, the village women made food and pita with zaatar, and the atmosphere was good. On October 9, there was an infiltration attempt into the village. In that incident, the deputy commander of  300th “Baram” Regional Brigade Lt. Col. Alim Abdallah and our driver were killed. The terrorists were also killed.

Following the incident, more forces were sent to Arab al-Aramshe. On October 16, I got a phone call from the deputy head of the Matte Asher Regional Council which we are part of. He said there was an order to evacuate the towns by the border fence.

Cows graze in the border area near Israel’s northern Arab village of Arab al-Aramshe on March 15, 2023, while the southern Lebanese village of Dhaira appears in the background. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

We convinced the residents to evacuate even though there was opposition. Some were worried that it would be a permanent evacuation, and some were concerned that the enemy would try to gain control of our village. We explained that the situation was sensitive and that they needed to evacuate until things became clearer.

Some history

Before the state was established, Arab al-Aramshe was an isolated village on the Lebanese border that spanned across three hills. In June of 1938, Cpt. Orde Wingate’s Special Night Squads infiltrated the village and killed two gang members hiding in it. Following the incident, the residents of Arab al-Aramshe made a deal with their neighbors from Kibbutz Hanita.

When the state was established, the residents of Arab al-Aramshe cooperated with the members of Hanita and Kibbutz Eilon in their opposition to the British. There was also an attempt to exile the village residents to Lebanon, but that failed because of interference from the members of Hanita and Eilon. To this day, there are strong ties between the elders of Arab al-Aramshe and the elders of Eilon.

Arab al-Aramshe was the last town in Israeli territory with military rule, mainly because of its proximity to the border and the relations with the residents of Dhiara, a Lebanese Bedouin village that was attached to us before the state was established. Some residents in our village have relatives who live there.

Until the IDF pulled out of Lebanon, we could go through the Rosh Hanikra checkpoint to visit family, but after that, families were cut off. In 1959, we were given the right to vote. The village has no industry, and most of the 1,763 residents are employed outside of the village.

The evacuation

After much convincing, the village residents agreed to evacuate in the second week of October. A small group evacuated to a hotel in East Jerusalem, and the majority went to a hotel in Nazareth. Two days later, the people in East Jerusalem reported that they were experiencing harassment, likely because of our girls’ less modest clothes. I contacted the council head, and with his help, we moved them to the hotel in Nazareth.

Members of Arab al-Aramshe and members of Kibbutz Eilon in 1939. (Nadav Mann, from the Dov Yermiah Collection, National Library)

Arab Al-Aramshe is the only non-Jewish town that was evacuated. There were 700 evacuees in the Crown Hotel in Nazareth and 270 in the Galilee Hotel in Nazareth. Some rented houses independently and some didn’t evacuate at all.

Why did some people choose to stay?

Our connection to our home and land is integral to our culture. It’s unacceptable for us to live in an apartment block. The Bedouin want their sheep and cows in their garden. As the administrator for our community, I’ve had to deal with numerous complaints. People didn’t understand where they were or what they were supposed to do.

We tried to anchor the community and established an elementary school in the hotel. We managed to raise money from the civilian population, both Jewish and Arab, mainly from Brothers in Arms and Latet. The residents of Nazareth welcomed us indescribably well, but I still felt sometimes that we were unwanted.

After two or three months, people started to feel the economic challenge. Anyone who evacuated to the hotels didn’t get grants. The hotel was the grant. Meaning, they had food, water, and somewhere to sleep. People always ask me when grants will be given to people who want to rent apartments.

I spoke with different people and tried to explain that it wasn’t enough that we were given food and beds. There are bills to cover. There are other needs. Besides, those who work in the industrial zone of Western Galilee struggled to get to work every day from Nazareth. The middle and high school students also had to travel daily to attend school at Sheikh Danun near Kabri.

Adib Maz’al in Shavei Zion, May 2024. (Dafna Talmon)

Half the residents returned to the village after two and a half months. After three and a half months, the majority had returned. I got told off by the regional council and the Home Front Command. I was told that I couldn’t allow people to go back.

I said that I was against returning and that I myself hadn’t gone back to set an example, and still, I cannot force the residents. I noted that in order to keep the evacuation going and allow the IDF to work freely in the village, we needed help in the form of an allowance to live outside of the village.

And you weren’t given it?

To this day, eight months later, no senior governmental official has come to Arab al-Aramshe. The village with the weakest population on the northern border, with the lowest socio-economic level, whose sons serve in the IDF, and which sits right on the border has been shown no prioritizing.

I still try to convince the residents to evacuate, but it’s unsuccessful. We all feel neglected by the state without a solution. I worry that after the war, we’ll also see mental crises.

An Israeli armored military vehicle patrols along the border with Lebanon near the northern Arab-Israeli village of Arab al-Aramshe on March 15, 2023. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

In the Bedouin community, people are embarrassed to seek psychological and emotional assistance. Even though we did get social workers here, they came too late after people had already been burnt.

I have conversations with community heads in the regional council who tell me they wish their residents could go back home. I feel the depression among them over their communities crumbling. Our community has managed to maintain unity, and we cannot take that for granted.

Where did you evacuate to?

Nazareth at first. At the end of January, I moved to Acre where I stayed in a hotel for two months with eight other families from the village. From there, I moved to the Shavei Zion village. Currently, three families remain in the hotel and 50 are renting houses independently in the Western Galilee to be closer to their jobs and temporary education institutions. The rest went back to the village.

My parents also went back, unfortunately. I’m an only son among five married sisters. Despite the situation, my parents wanted to go back. The older generation cannot stand the evacuation. Whenever I get alerts to enter the bomb shelters, I call them first to tell them and then send a message to the groups.

My parents don’t have WhatsApp, and they are indifferent to bomb shelters even though there are unmanned aerial vehicle infiltrations and sometimes terrorist infiltration attempts. A few days ago, a cut fence was found near Hanita.

Adib Maz’al in Shavei Zion, May 2024. (Dafna Talmon)

Since the war broke out, I’ve been working intensively on community issues. I deal with most things alone because the committee isn’t functioning. It’s not a complaint, it’s a fact. The committee members are volunteers, and it’s hard for them to commit at times like this to anything other than survival.

A committee member has less time for public work when he needs to drive his children to school outside the village every day and then bring them home because there are no shuttles or public transport because we are still officially evacuated. And between shuttling his children, he also needs to provide for his family.

Between two worlds

I don’t feel like I belong in the village or the hotel. I try to deal not only with the pressing issues but also plan cultural activities like field trips for the youth and elderly and performances outside of the village. I have the community center manager, social workers, a youth coordinator, and a senior citizens coordinator working with me. Most of them are members of the village.

In the evening, I go back to the hotel where I meet a population that is mostly elderly people and families with children. There are no single people like me, and the routine has changed.

Sometimes, I go to Nahariya for a coffee and see people walking around, going to the beach, shopping, and sitting in bars. And then I go to the village and hear sirens and gunfire and see the army’s activity. In one moment, I’m in a war, and in the other, almost normal life. Two opposing worlds.

I find myself repressing emotions a lot. Maybe after the war, all the emotions will flood me at once, but for now, I’m really not thinking about myself.

This picture taken on March 15, 2023, shows a military area warning sign along the border area between southern Lebanon and northern Israel near the northern Arab-Israeli village of Arab al-Aramshe. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

How do the people of Arashma see the war?

As opposed to the Arabs, who see themselves as Palestinians, the Bedouins are involved in Israeli life. We live according to the state’s values and are loyal to it. Military service is part of our legacy even though we don’t have to serve. We have soldiers in active service and reserves, most of whom serve in combat.

I encourage the village youth to enlist because I believe the service can contribute to personal development. It’s not just the fighting, it’s also the opportunity to meet new people, go out into the world, take responsibility, and do things independently without mom and dad.

Still, you’ll find two groups here: The first is more loyal to the state’s institutions and opposes the enemy at any cost, and the second is a smaller group that believes in the Palestinian people’s right to live under a civil rule like in the West Bank and not under military rule that shoots anyone who opposes it like Hamas in Gaza. You won’t find anyone here who supports Hamas or Hezbollah in any way in this village.

In 2006, a woman and two girls from the village were killed by Hezbollah gunfire. I was a child then and I remember taking it hard. I remember the residents’ rage and the calls to kill [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah. On April 17, Hezbollah fired a UAV that hit our community center. One soldier (Maj. Dor Zimel) was killed and 18 people, mostly soldiers but also some village residents, were injured.

Did Hezbollah consider that there were children in the community center? Civilians? No! They called it a settlement. An Arab settlement in Jewish territory. Maybe it’s because of the Israeli flag that stands seven meters (23 feet) tall at the entrance to the village? Maybe it’s because of the memorial in the village to our soldiers who have been killed in Israel’s wars?

A projectile fired from Lebanon hits a community center in the northern border community of Arab al-Aramshe on April 17, 2023. (Screen capture X: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

After the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah erected towers along the border and spied on the towns from there. I believe it knows our village’s mentality, schedules, and central locations. Over the last few years, drones that the IDF cannot recognize have made it over the border because our border is neglected and there isn’t a full IDF presence here.

Nasrallah has threatened to capture the Galilee multiple times. How do you capture a place? Only by invading it, and Hamas beat them to it. By the way, I’m sure there is military and idealistic cooperation between Hezbollah and Hamas because they have a common funder: Iran.

Do you feel that there has been institutional discrimination surrounding the evacuation?

I feel like there has been institutional discrimination toward all the evacuated towns. If there was institutional discrimination against us, it was only on the issue of weapons. Arab Al-Aramshe was an approved village for civilians to carry weapons until the beginning of the war. Anyone who wanted and was eligible was given a gun license, mainly because of our proximity to the border.

At the height of the war, the National Security Ministry canceled our eligibility for guns, claiming it was “in light of a recommendation from the Israel Police.” There really isn’t any justification for it. Our crime rates are almost zero. There is no security basis for the recommendation. We’ve been trying to overturn the decision, but so far without success.

A month after our eligibility was revoked. Kiryat Shmona’s residents, who are further from the border than us, were given the right to carry arms.

Adib Maz’al in Shavei Zion, May 2024. (Dafna Talmon)

The future

As the community head, I want to see serious infrastructure rehabilitation in the near future because there has been a lot of damage. Regarding the more distant future, I want more advanced infrastructure. I want us to continue the process of being connected to fiber optics, for the state to actually establish the employment area we have been promised for years, and for the Agricultural Ministry to allocate more land to the farmers.

I want us to be a united and thriving community where education is at the top of its priorities. I want encouragement for higher education, professional training, and scholarships. I myself studied at Haifa University and did a master’s in political science.

In the even more distant future, I want to be part of the decision-makers’ circle. I want to get to the Knesset or a big ministry and have influence. I might even establish the first Bedouin political party.

What do you think about the government’s conduct?

The government is full of people without the skills, knowledge, and training in the fields they are responsible for. They are only there to survive politically and steal money for their group. To this day, no budgets have been allocated to the local authorities and there’s no rehabilitation plan for the evacuees for after the war — not economically, not educationally, and not emotionally.

On October 7, the government failed. How many times was the prime minister warned? He’s always looking for someone to blame, but he’s not the problem. The problem is the flock that follows him.

Smoke rises after the Israeli airforce hits southern Lebanon following Lebanese rockets hitting the Northern Israeli Arab village of Arab al-Aramshe, April 17, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Let’s talk about the flock.

My family had a flock of 300 goats. As a boy, I would go out to shepherd them with my uncle. Those were the best years. Starting in 2000, everything changed. Technology began to advance drastically. I miss those years. The flock, telephones anchored to walls, low-tech, nature.

Are you optimistic?

My parents, from families who have lived in the village for generations, say that this is the longest war we’ve had here, and they’ve been through a lot of wars. There were never daily exchanges of fire like there are now.

In May, I went to the village and there was a lot of rocket fire from Hezbollah and interceptions from the Iron Dome. That’s become the routine, I already know that the next academic year will begin in the temporary institutions. Nothing will open in the village, and that brings on more hopelessness. The uncertainty continues.

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