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Criminalizing the Victim
By Amos Gvirtz
1 Jan 2018

According to the ruling by Beer Sheva Magistrate Court Judge Yoav Atar, Sheikh Sayah Abu Medigham Al Touri is a criminal who deserves a ten-month prison sentence because he invaded lands that he claims are his. This sentence was given before the court even reached a ruling about the ownership issue of the said land. The judge ruled that Sheikh Sayah be sent to prison for ten months and pay a 36,000 shekel fine, in addition to a suspended sentence of five months in prison effective if and when he enter the area of Al Araqib again.

These are lands that Sheikh Sayah`s great-grandfather purchased in 1905 from someone in the Al Uqbi tribe around the area of Al Araqib. In 1952 the Israeli military governor told the tribe`s Sheikh at the time that the Israeli army intended to hold maneuvers in the area and that the Bedouins of this tribe must evacuate the area for half a year, until the maneuvers are over. When they asked to return to their land, they were told they must pay lease fees.

Naturally they wouldn`t hear of paying for leasing their own land.
In 1953 the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed the land purchase law which stipulated, among other things, that lands not used for a certain period of time determined by the law itself were to become `state lands`. People were thus evicted and their lands taken over by the state. This was simply land-grab through legislation. In addition, the state no longer recognizes traditional ownership of land. Whoever did not register his ownership officially is not recognized by the Israeli government as his land`s owner. Sheikh Sayah does have documents recording the purchase of his land. Note that the lands on which the Zionist settler-colonies were established in the Negev desert (before 1948) were purchased from Bedouins in the old traditional manner.

Now, as Sheikh Sayah and his people refuse to accept the robbery of their own lands through laws and legal trickery, they are criminalized! Thousands of Bedouins living in the Negev own their lands in the traditional way which is unrecognized, and when they attempt to cling to these lands they are criminalized by the State of Israel. The invader has declared their lands as `state land` and now claims that the Bedouins invade them.

But this is not all. Israeli governments have not officially recognized Bedouin villages that existed in the Negev since long before the founding of the State of Israel. This is true even of villages formed as a result of the state`s uprooting Bedouin tribes from their lands and transferring them to the Sayag district. Beyond belief - a state dispossesses people of their lands, and then in the very sites to which it transferred them, it declares them invaders! If a village is not recognized officially, any construction there is illegal. The state proceeded to establish through planning and building regulations that most of the Sasyag areas are for farming and not to be built up. Thus a legal situation arose whereby all Bedouins in their villages become criminals by realizing the basic human right to shelter.

Such implementation of Israeli legislations that turns the Occupation`s victims into criminals is often seen in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. In the early 1970s the Israeli army disbanded local planning and building committees and took over their authorities. Now the state refrains from creating master-plans and does not permit building, so that nearly all Palestinian construction is `illegal`. The army has declared as `firing zones` areas thinly inhabited by Palestinians, so that now those who do live there are in a position of violating the army`s `laws`. Similar use is made of nature reserves and archeological sites, denying Palestinians the possibility of using their own land.

This is no less than pushing unwanted populations out of the country or into extremely limited areas. It is a war the Israel`s security forces wages against a defenseless civilian population. In order to convince Israelis and the rest of the world that its deeds are justified, the state has created an entire legislative system presenting this war as the implementation of laws upon their violators. I call this `criminalizing the victim`.

How would we convince ourselves and our supporters that we are the `good guys` and they (Palestinians) are the `bad guys` without pulling a legal system on them that criminalizes our victims?!

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