Israel Police forces and Israel Land Authority workers began demolishing structures in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al-Arakib in the northern Negev, on Thursday morning. This is the 50th time the village has been razed in the last decade and a half.
The demolition of some 20 structures erected in the village's cemetery began shortly after the Ramle Magistrate's Court rejected an appeal by residents against their expulsion from the village.
Many residents of the village, which has been evacuated numerous times in the past, took refuge in the local mosque, itself built inside the cemetery. The State Prosecutor's Office denied that the structures were in the cemetery proper, saying they were just outside it.
Al-Arakib residents have been waging a lengthy legal battle ever since the village was first demolished in 2010. Notices were posted May 21 informing the villagers of the state's intention to demolish the structures and giving them 21 days to evacuate. Those 21 days expired on Thursday morning.
The villagers maintain that they own the bank on which the village is built and were forcible evicted from their land by the Israel Defense Forces in 1950.
The state argues that the land was taken over by the state in the early 1950s because it had been abandoned and that the attempts to settle it that began in 1998 were illegal. Israeli courts have consistently upheld the state's position.
The Al-Arakib residents continued to erect structures on the site, despite the court rulings. The village was demolished for the 49th time in April 2013.
"It's a very frightening situation," said Huda Abu Obeid, a social activist who lives in the Bedouin town of Lakiya, when the demolitions began on Thursday morning. "We believe that Al-Araqeeb will set a precedent; what they do there will be done in all the other villages."
Sheikh Sayyah A-Turi, a resident of Al-Arakib vowed: "We will continue to fight for our village and we are still waiting for the decision of the High Court of Justice on the ownership of the land."