Conflict & Justice

Israel sues Bedouin for costs of repeatedly demolishing village that Bedouin rebuilt each time


Bedouins, who are Muslims, and Jews attend an interfaith prayer in a makeshift tent in al-Araqib, a Bedouin village in the Negev Desert which has been razed more than a dozen times by Israeli police in the last 12 months.


David Buimovitch

Israel is suing a group of Bedouin in the Negev desert for the amount of money it has cost to demolish their village more than 20 times, with the Bedouin rebuilding every time, BBC News reported.

A lawsuit for a little more than $500,000 was filed on Tuesday in a court in Beersheva, the capital of southern Israel's Negev desert region, where the Bedouin village of al-Araqib gets rebuilt and razed time and again, according to AFP:

"They built about 40 structures there for which they have no (building) rights," Israel Land Administration spokeswoman Ortal Tzabar told AFP.

"They have already invaded the site more than 20 times, putting up huts and buildings and it costs us, for policemen and bulldozers and manpower, a huge amount."

The Bedouin say they will continue to reconstruct their homes in al-Araqib. They claim historic rights to the village.

The Bedouin say they have repeatedly asked for planning permits for their ramshackle homes but they have been refused. Israeli authorities say the land is for agricultural use, according to BBC News. The state of Israel is the registered owner of the land south of the city of Rahat in the Negev.

About a year ago in July, an eviction order was issued for the Bedouin village and Israeli security forces demolished 45 homes, animal pens and other structures.

The Bedouin returned and rebuilt.

Since then the Israeli authorities have destroyed what the Bedouin rebuild in al-Araqib more than 20 times. The Bedouin continue to return and rebuild.

The Abu Mediam and Abu Jabber families claim that the land at al-Araqib has been their property since the Ottoman era, the Jerusalem Post reported.

They say they were evicted from the land in 1951 by the IDF and weren't allowed to return, in spite of promises that were made. They also say they came back to the area, and built there again, to lay claim to land that was rightfully theirs.

The state said that the Bedouin have no right to the land, saying it is state-owned, and authorities say the Bedouin have never produced any title deeds that prove their ownership claims.

Momtaz Khateeb, of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, which has represented the al-Araqib villagers in the situation, criticized Israel’s decision to sue, according to the Jerusalem Post:

“It’s simply absurd that the state is suing people whose houses it has destroyed several times,” Khateeb told the Post. “The state demolished these people’s homes, and now it demands that they pay compensation? We don’t think that this is a very wise act on behalf of the state.”

Khateeb said the Bedouin involved in the dispute over al-Araqib are now considering whether to sue the state.

“They are considering whether to sue over the fact that the state destroyed their homes and caused them distress and economic hardship,” he said.

The al-Araqib case is one of many where Negev Bedouin have tried to claim ownership of land based on pre-Israeli-state documents.

The Jewish state has never recognized claims by the Bedouin of land ownership in the Negev and has urged them to relocate to government-planned townships,  according to AFP.

For the Bedouin, that would involve giving up their claim to the land, something many of them aren't willing to do.

About 160,000 Bedouin live in Israel; more than half live in unrecognized villages in the Negev that lack municipal services including water and electricity. Many of the Bedouin live in deep poverty.