[News] I want to live in a state that’s not racist - Bedouin keeps fighting for rights

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 22 11:28:59 EDT 2012

"I want to live in a state that’s not racist;" a 
Bedouin keeps fighting for his people’s 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 family’s 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 
state’s 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, 
it’s 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-Okbi’s lawyers. She 
found that since the land was not properly 
registered in 1921, when Palestine was controlled 
by the 
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 don’t figure on any 
official maps, and are deemed illegal by the 
Israeli authorities. As a result, residents of 
these villages don’t 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 state’s position with regards to 
Bedouin land claims, leading to a 100 percent 
success rate in favor of the state.

“The state doesn’t have to prove that there were 
no Bedouins there and that [the land] didn’t 
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 state’s 
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 
didn’t 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.

“It’s even worse than appropriation. With 
appropriation, you’re saying, ‘It was yours but 
we’re taking it.’ But here, they are saying to 
you: this wasn’t even yours. So it’s not even 
considered appropriation. [Israel is saying,] ‘It 
was always ours, even though we didn’t exist.’ 
It’s 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 
Minister’s 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 
August 2012 
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-Okbi’s case, he wasn’t optimistic that the 
court would recognize al-Okbi’s 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 it’s 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] 
doesn’t 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 they’ve 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 don’t want compensation. We don’t 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-D’Amours is a reporter and 
documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of 
her work can be found at <http://jkdamours.com>http:jkdamours.com.

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