Israeli Border Police rolled into the Palestinian Bedouin village of al-Araqib, located in the Naqab (Negev) region of present-day Israel, to demolish the few shacks left standing. It was the 84th time that al-Araqib has been demolished since 2010.
Two days before, I sat with one of the families that lives on the sparse land. Salim Abu Madegam, aged 48, predicted to me that the Israeli authorities would come soon.
“They won’t let any of these structures last more than 30 days,” Abu Madegam said.
Like clockwork, Israel won’t let a month go by without destroying whatever stands in al-Araqib. For the first 30 days, structures built without permits — which are almost impossible to obtain — are called “fresh invasions” by Israel. After that, there’s more red tape required to demolish them.
Michal Rotem, who works for Dukium, the Negev Forum for Coexistence, said Israeli police arrived at al-Araqib after a day of demolitions in the Naqab. “They just finished their day in al-Araqib,” she told me.
Homes were also demolished in two other Bedouin villages that Israel refuses to recognize, a-Zarnug and Abu Grinat. Homes built without a permit were also destroyed in Rahat, a “planned township,” into which many Bedouins were corralled during the 1970s.
Opening in the law?
Last month, Israel’s high court issued a ruling that briefly encouraged many who have long advocated for the embattled al-Araqib. The court allowed residents of al-Araqib to proceed with a legal challenge to the state’s expropriation of their lands which occurred in the 1950s.
Al-Araqib was just one of many Bedouin villages expropriated by the State of Israel under the Land Appropriation Law of 1953. Last month’s ruling concedes that the district court in Bir al-Saba (Beersheva) can assess the legitimacy of the 1950s land expropriations.
During the 1970s, according to Rotem, Israel did allow some land claims filed by Bedouin villages to proceed. But all that stopped in the early 2000s, when the state began filing counter land claims. Israel’s success with these claims stands at 100 percent.
Writing on the Israeli website +972, Rotem cautiously celebrated the high court’s decision, noting that while the court didn’t rule the villagers had ownership, it did allow them to make an important legal argument.
Rotem’s cautiousness was validated this week when the high court rejected the al-Uqbi tribe’s case and reaffirmed the state’s position that most of the Naqab was mawat, or “dead land,” at the time of Israel’s expropriation. Nuri al-Uqbi, now in his seventies, had collected piles of documents proving his tribe owned a plot of land in the Naqab through a series of agreements with the authorities.
The al-Uqbis had filed a legal complaint, arguing that while Bedouin deeds were never formally registered, they were in fact recognized by the Ottomans, British and even Zionists, at one point.
But the high court rejected that position, ruling that a person must prove their ancestors had registered their land under the British Mandate, which ruled Palestine between the 1920s and 1940s, or had cultivated the land before 1858 under the Ottoman Empire in order to prove ownership.
Rotem said these demands make it virtually impossible for any village to be recognized.
With or without the help of Israel’s judicial branch, however, al-Araqib’s residents’ determination to remain on the land is undaunted. By the time the sun set yesterday evening, they had already rebuilt all of their tents.