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The Courts vs. Justice - how land robbery laws from the 1950s still haunt Bedouins
By Amos Gvirtz
24 Oct 2017

The judges of the Beersheva Magistrates court found in favour of the State in two lawsuits brought by the State against Sheikh Sayach Al-Turi and others from the Al- Turi tribe. In the first case, a civil suit, Judge Ido Rozin ruled that the inhabitants of the village Al Araqib would pay the costs incurred by the State in the destruction of the first six demolitions of their village. In the second case, a criminal suit (19 combined cases), Judge Yoav Atar ruled that Sheikh Sayach had illegally encroached onto to Al Araqib`s land.

I am not a legal expert and I do not profess to be able to determine whether the judges ruled in accordance with the law (an issue which will likely be addressed in any appeal which the defendants may lodge in an attempt to prove that the law is on their side). I trust that the judges did their job to the best of their professional ability and in accordance with their interpretation of the law. However I maintain that the law itself goes against both justice and morality. The Knesset has passed a series of laws which have created a situation in which a whole population, whose only crime is that they are Bedouins (or Palestinians) in the Jewish state, have lost most of their land.

Here is the story: In 1905 Sheikh Sayach`s great-grandfather bought land from a member of the Al Uqbi tribe. His family settled on this land. As time passed, the family established a cemetery on a small part of the area, where they bury their dead until this day. The land passed down from generation to generation. In 1952 the military governor informed the sheikh of that time that the army intended to carry out manoeuvers in the area and for their own safety they would have to move to an adjacent area where the Al Huzayel tribe lived. The governor promised that after half a year when the manoeuvers were completed they would be able to return to their land. When the time came to return they were told by the military governor that they would be required to pay a land lease fee in order to get back their property. Naturally they did not agree to this demand.

It appears that the Israeli Knesset had during this time passed the Land Acquisition Law (1953), that amongst other things determined that land that had not been in use for a period determined by the law would automatically be transferred to the ownership of the State. Legislation enabling land robbery! The family eventually returned to their land, cultivating it intensively and herding their flocks of sheep.

The Israeli courts have to base their rulings on existing laws. However, when these laws seek to legalize land robbery, the court is necessarily ruling against justice and against morality. This story is not unique. The State used the same tactic on several other tribes in the Al Araqib area and other areas in the Negev. They were removed from their land until the completion of army manoeuvers and with the backing of the Land Acquisition Law (1953) the State subsequently robbed them of their land.

In order to strengthen the legal basis for these acts of robbery, the Israeli government and its courts took advantage of the fact that Bedouin land ownership had always been based on traditional laws. The Israeli government simply does not recognize the Bedouins` traditional laws and only acknowledges land ownership that has been registered with the Ottoman Land Registration. Since the vast majority of Bedouins had not registered ownership with the Ottoman Land Registration, another `legal` way was discovered to rob them of their lands. Jews and Zionist bodies, who had purchased land from the Bedouins before 1948 according to traditional ownership laws, had registered the land with the Land Registration Authority.

Normally, when a robbery occurs, the police attempt to apprehend the criminal and return the stolen property to its owners. In this case, the family`s refusal to accept the theft of their lands by the State has turned them into criminals in the eyes of the Israeli law! I call this criminalization of the victim. Now, instead of the police protecting the citizen against the theft of his property, it banishes the victims of the theft. And finally, to add insult to injury, the victims are made to pay the perpetrator of the crime for destroying their own village to which they had `illegally` returned.

The Israel Courts are obliged to pass judgment according to the law of the land. However, as the laws were intended to legitimize the theft of land, the courts are ruling against justice and morality.

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