[News] I want to live in a state thats not racist - Bedouin keeps fighting for rights
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 22 11:28:59 EDT 2012
"I want to live in a state thats not racist;" a
Bedouin keeps fighting for his peoples rights
22 May 2012
After more than three years of expert testimony,
evidence and deliberations, an Israeli court
recently rejected an appeal filed by
activist Nuri al-Okbi demanding that his land
ownership claim to his familys ancestral land in
the village of
be officially recognized.
The ruling is oppressive and unjust, al-Okbi
told The Electronic Intifada. It is also
illegal; illegal because the court was completely
biased towards the Israeli government, the Israeli state.
Al-Okbi was nine years old when he and his family
were forced from their homes in al-Araqib,
located just north of
al-Saba (Beersheva) in the
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/negev-naqab>Naqab (Negev) desert.
They expelled us from our land, from our house.
They destroyed our houses. They dried our groves:
figs, vines, pomegranates, al-Okbi recalled.
While the residents of al-Araqib were initially
told that they could move back within a few
months, they soon discovered that they were
forbidden to return to their land. And, like the
rest of the Palestinian population that remained
within the boundaries of Israel following the
states establishment, they were subjected to military rule until 1966.
They told us that it is only for six months, and
we will be able to come back. I have a letter
from the military governor; the letter is signed
by the military governor and it is written in
Arabic. According to the letter, we will get a
piece of land in exchange for our land, until we
[are allowed to] return to our [village]. From
1951 to this day, a period of about 61 years,
its been prohibited for us to return to our land, al-Okbi explained.
In the ruling, Sarah Dovrat, a Beersheba district
court judge, relied primarily on legal
precedents, ignoring much of the expert testimony
and documents presented by al-Okbis lawyers. She
found that since the land was not properly
registered in 1921, when Palestine was controlled
Mandate, it belongs to the state today.
We know the truth
Al-Okbi said that he has filed an appeal to the
high court (also known as the supreme court),
which he hoped would overturn the ruling and recognize his land rights.
I hope that there will be a change in the ruling
of the supreme court. [But] even if the highest
authority in Israel will rule that this land is
not our land, we know the truth. We know the
truth regarding who this land belongs to, he said.
Before the foundation of the State of Israel,
between 65,000 and 90,000 Bedouin lived in the
Naqab (Negev) desert. A semi-nomadic population
that relied mainly on traditional agriculture,
approximately 85 percent of the Negev Bedouin
were expelled from their lands in 1947-48.
By the early 1950s, only 19 of the original 95
Bedouin tribes remained in the Naqab.
Additionally, 12 of these remaining tribes were
forcibly displaced from their lands and confined
to a restricted area in the northeastern Naqab
called the Siyag (literally, the fenced area).
The Bedouin of al-Araqib were among those who
were forcibly relocated to the Siyag, an area
known for its low fertility, from which they
required a special permit from Israeli military authorities to leave.
Israel also passed laws to facilitate taking
control of the land, including the Absentee
Property Law (1950) and the Land Acquisition Law
(1953). Through these means, the state took over
an estimated 93 percent of land in the Naqab.
Today, nearly 200,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel
live in the Naqab. Half the population live in
government-planned Bedouin townships, which
suffer from widespread unemployment, crime and
poverty, and which provide little to no services for their residents.
The other half lives in dozens of
villages. These villages dont figure on any
official maps, and are deemed illegal by the
Israeli authorities. As a result, residents of
these villages dont receive basic state services
like water, electricity, paved roads, health care, or schools.
Destroyed 34 times
Virtually every structure in an unrecognized
village is subject to demolition, and entire
villages have been razed to the ground.
Al-Araqib, for instance, has been destroyed 34
times since July 2010 to make way for a
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/jnf>Jewish National Fund-sponsored forest.
In the early 1970s, the Israeli government asked
the Bedouin to file any land claims they had in
the northern Negev region. As a result,
approximately 3,200 claims were registered over
991,000 dunams (247,000 acres) of land.
In 2004, Israel began counter-claiming Bedouin
land claims, which in effect put the onus on the
Bedouin to prove land ownership before the
courts. To date, the Israeli courts have largely
legitimized the states position with regards to
Bedouin land claims, leading to a 100 percent
success rate in favor of the state.
The state doesnt have to prove that there were
no Bedouins there and that [the land] didnt
belong to the Bedouin. The state can actually sit
back in a way and hope that nobody can prove
[ownership] and then automatically, by default,
it goes to the state, explained Oren Yiftachel,
an Israeli professor of political geography at
Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.
More specifically, the Bedouin must prove land
ownership dating back to Ottoman (1858) and
British Mandate control (1921) over Palestine.
Failing to prove ownership through the use of
traditional documents such as land deeds and
contracts means that the Israeli government can
then classify Bedouin land as state land.
This difficult process, coupled with the states
perfect success rate in challenging Bedouin land
ownership in the Negev, has caused many Bedouin
citizens to withdraw their legal claims
altogether, and has left most feeling alienated
and disenfranchised by the state.
Impossible to prove ownership
[For] a vulnerable, indigenous society that
didnt have the technological means that we have
today, [the process] makes it all but impossible
for the Bedouin to ever prove ownership,
Yiftachel told The Electronic Intifada.
Its even worse than appropriation. With
appropriation, youre saying, It was yours but
were taking it. But here, they are saying to
you: this wasnt even yours. So its not even
considered appropriation. [Israel is saying,] It
was always ours, even though we didnt exist.
Its a Kafka-esque kind of situation.
The Israeli government recently passed a law to
deal with Bedouin settlement issues in the
Naqab. The plan is widely known as the
Plan, named after
Prawer, the representative of the Israeli Prime
Ministers Office who drafted it.
Formulated without any input or consultation with
Bedouin communities, the Prawer Plan would
forcibly evict at least 30,000 Bedouin citizens
from their current homes in unrecognized
villages, and relocate them to government-planned townships.
The Israeli government has promoted the Prawer
Plan as an attempt to modernize the Bedouin and
provide them with better services. The Bedouin
have flatly rejected the plan as an infringement
on their basic rights and attack on their
cultural traditions and connection to the land.
A recent report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz
revealed that a new Israeli police unit, with
more than 200 officers, is being formed to
enforce Bedouin evictions and home demolitions in
the Naqab. It is expected to be operational as of
police establishes unit to enforce demolition of
Bedouin homes, 17 April 2012).
According to Oren Yiftachel, while appealing to
the Israeli high court is important in Nuri
al-Okbis case, he wasnt optimistic that the
court would recognize al-Okbis land rights,
since this would set an important precedent for other Bedouin claimants.
It will be easier for [the high court] to hang
on to this kind of precedent [of denying Bedouin
land claims] even though its in total
contradiction with the evidence on the ground, he said.
Areas that were totally cultivated and settled
were declared dead land, abandoned desert [that]
doesnt belong to anybody. This is ridiculous,
but they put the Bedouins in the position that
they almost cannot ever prove that they are the
rightful owners of the land that theyve been living on for generations.
We reject compensation
Al-Okbi also readily admitted that the Israeli
legal system is an unjust one, and that it will
continue to be an uphill struggle to achieve justice in the courts.
The law in Israel is not just, he said. In the
text of the ruling, it says that it is
unfortunate that we, the Okbis, did not accept
compensation. We reject compensation, completely!
We dont want compensation. We dont want money from Israel, we want our land.
We date back seven generations of working this
land, he added. We are [for] seven generations
in al-Araqib, seven generations. Why do they take
my land and give it to another citizen? This is
unacceptable. To take my land and give it to
someone else? I want to live in a state that is not racist.
Jillian Kestler-DAmours is a reporter and
documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of
her work can be found at <http://jkdamours.com>http:jkdamours.com.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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