Six residents of an unrecognized Bedouin village near the southern city of Be'er Sheva will have to pay the state to cover the costs of demolishing their homes, an Israeli court ruled last week.
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The residents of Al-Araqib, which has been demolished over 100 times since 2010, must pay 262,000 shekels (over $72,000) for the demolition costs and an additional 100,000 shekels for the expenses of the state’s lawyer.
In August 2011, the state prosecution filed a civil suit in Be'er Sheva Magistrate's Court against 34 residents of the village, demanding reimbursement for the expenses involved in eight rounds of demolitions that took place between July and December 2010. The state wanted to be repaid the estimated 1.8-million-shekel outlay for the police forces, the inspectors from the Green Patrol and the contractors who carried out the work.
Two of the defendants died during the trial but 26 others came to a compromise agreement. Six residents chose to see out the legal proceedings to the end. Last Wednesday Judge Iddo Rusin ruled that the six have to pay 262,000 shekels and the 100,000 shekels in legal fees. Rusin also said the defendants would have to pay back the prosecution for recordings and minutes, which are likely to be a few thousand shekels more.
Attorney Khaled Sawalhi, who represented the residents, said they are considering an appeal. “The behavior of the prosecution was abusive toward the defendants,” he said. “The state demolished the village, in my opinion in violation of the law, and went one better and demanded compensation for an act that wasn’t legal in the first place. I believe that the verdict ignored the substantive arguments we raised, including the fact that the issue of ownership that is the object of the suit is still pending before the district court.”
“There’s no real reason to claim payment for a unit that is budgeted annually by the state," said Haya Noah, director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality. "This is another of the tricks used by the state to wear down and break up worthy civic struggles, like the struggle for the right to a respectable place to live. Instead of pushing the residents to the wall, the state must provide shelter for the villagers and stop the campaign of demolitions and harassment.”
Joint List chairman lawmaker Ayman Odeh said, “The court’s ruling brings the state’s cruelty toward Arab citizens of the Negev to new heights. The state, which is trying to plant trees in an effort to uproot people from their land, refuses to recognize the villages, most of which exist where they are from before the state’s founding. Now it is also choosing to financially ruin anyone who dares to raise his head and fight the decrees by civil and democratic means.”