A court has let the state seek 1.3 million shekels ($372,000) in reimbursement from six residents of an unofficial Bedouin village in the Negev for the cost of evicting them from disputed land.
The Be’er Sheva District Court granted the state’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling stating that the state was not entitled to collect the sum from the people of the village of Al-Araqib.
It’s the latest chapter in a battle between the state and residents of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the south. The state has already received nearly 320,000 shekels in settlement agreements with 28 other defendants in the case.
For years, the residents of Al-Araqib have been clashing with the state, the Israel Land Authority and the police over land at a site north of Be’er Sheva where they claim ownership rights. The current dispute is over a site hosting a small number of makeshift structures, a cemetery and a building with a permanent floor.
Over the years, officials of the Israel Land Authority have visited the site, accompanied by police, to demolish temporary structures, but after the officials leave, the structures are rebuilt. The village’s 70-year-old leader, Sheikh Sayekh Abu Madi’am, recently served a prison term for trespassing at the site.
The villagers say they own the land on which the village was built and were forcibly evicted by the army in 1950. The state says that the land was taken over by the state in the early ‘50s because it had been abandoned and that attempts by the Bedouin to settle beginning in 1998 were illegal. The courts have upheld the state’s position.
In an earlier stage of the case, the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court ordered the village’s residents to pay the 260,000 shekels incurred to evict them. The residents appealed to the district court, but so did the state, which challenged the amount as too low. It was the state’s appeal that two district court judges granted, with a third judge dissenting.
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The court also ordered the state to be reimbursed 20,000 shekels in legal expenses.
In his dissenting opinion on appeal, Judge Ariel Vago said the state was justified in suing for reimbursement, calling the residents “intruders.” The public, he wrote, should not have to bear the major expense “resulting from individuals’ repeated lawless conduct.”
The judge added that imposing the expense on the six defendants “creates a feeling of unease” because the six are among an original group of 34 defendants, the other 28 of whom reached a settlement. Thus the six must pay a disproportionate share.
Judge Gad Gidion, one of the two judges who granted the appeal in the state’s favor, wrote that he shared Judge Vago’s sense of unease but that, from a legal standpoint, “I believe there is no choice but to grant the state’s appeal at this point in full.”
The two judges in the majority called the case “a years-long joint fight” by all the defendants, while the Bedouin involved, including the remaining six, tried to “make it difficult for the enforcement authorities to exercise the state’s ownership of the land.” They added that the villagers are on the land “in violation of the law and in contempt of judicial orders.”