The Be’er Sheva District Court rejected the state’s appeal against the cancelation of demolition orders in the Bedouin village Al-Sura Thursday, lifting the threat over the homes of 350 people.
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The court rejected the appeal by the Southern District Central Planning and Building Committee, in a case that has been pending since 2006, when the state issued demolition orders against homes and other structures belonging to the 70 families living in the unrecognized village, near Nevatim in the northern Negev.
In the wake of the injunctions the residents filed an appeal through Adalah − The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and the court ordered a halt to the process.
Three years later, in 2011, the Kiryat Gat Magistrate’s Court decided to accept the residents’ claim and ordered the demolition orders cancelled once and for all, but then the state appealed to the District Court. In his decision Kiryat Gat Magistrate’s Court Judge Israel Axelrad wrote at the time that although the homeowners had violated construction laws, as the state claimed, and the law could be enforced on this matter, there was a need to consider the proper balance between specific public interests and the individual interests of the residents whose homes would be demolished.
This week Be’er Sheva District Court Judge Tali Haimovich Livnat ruled that she was rejecting the appeal, and in her decision wrote: “In order to uproot 350 people from their homes and make them homeless, the public interest must be strong and genuine. The public’s immediate need for the land should be added to all the considerations. When it had the impression that there is no such need, a previous court canceled the injunction, and its decision is acceptable to me.”
Haimovich Livnat also noted that no one denies that the construction was carried out illegally and without a permit, but questioned whether this fact overrides the interest of the village residents, since the court had the impression that the state has no immediate need for the land.
The village of Al-Sura has existed since the Ottoman period. The land was purchased in the 1920s and its ownership was recognized by the British Mandate government. During the 1970s an official request was made to the state to recognize the lands, but it received no reply. In the 1980s, when the Bedouin population was evacuated from the area, the residents of Al-Sura were not asked to leave “because the army did not need the land at the time,” according to the appeal.
Over the years the residents were considered squatters, since the land is defined as state-owned, although the residents claim they were offered no alternative housing. There are plans to build the Kidmat Negev industrial zone as well as a military base on village land.
Khalil Alamor, a member of the Al-Sura committee, which has been fighting the home demolitions, said following the decision: “We are certain of the justice of our path and of our right to develop our village on the land of our forefathers, as citizens with equal rights. We call on the state to recognize the settlement and desist from the policy that is forcing us, and other Arab-Bedouin villages in the Negev, to live in inhumane conditions.”
Attorney Suhad Bishara of Adalah, who represented the residents during the legal procedure, said the decision is precedent-setting: “We welcome the court’s decision to protect the village that has existed since before the establishment of the state, but has been in danger of demolition for almost a decade. As far as we are concerned, this is an important legal precedent, which we hope will cause the state to refrain from demolishing the villages of Atir and Umm al-Hiran, which have also existed for over 50 years and are in danger of demolition, and in general that this ruling will serve as a model for courts that discuss injunctions to demolish homes.”