Be’er Sheva Court ruling on Guardian activists’ pet subject

 A guest post by Hadar Sela

As long-time readers of Cif Watch are well aware, the subject of the demolition of repeatedly illegally constructed buildings at Al Arakib in the Negev has been adopted by the Guardian as something of a cause celebre.

In July 2010 CiF provided a platform for Neve Gordon to accuse Israel of carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Negev Bedouin when illegally built structures in Al Arakib were demolished by the Israeli authorities and the Guardian still carries a video on the subject.

In March 2011 Harriet Sherwood jumped on the bandwagon with her report from Al Arakib, quoting Ben Gurion University’s Professor Oren Yiftachel (Neve Gordon’s colleague) as an authority on “Judaisation of the Negev”.

In October 2011 CiF ran an article by MK Talab el Sana which repeated the ‘ethnic cleansing’ theme, as did a letter signed by most of the ‘who’s who’ of British anti-Israel activists published by the Guardian on the same day.

CiF Watch has provided background information and links to the outcomes of some of the many court cases on the subject of Al Arakib here, here, here and here.

On March 15th 2012, Judge Sarah Dovrat of the Be’er Sheva District Court gave her ruling after yet another protracted court case.  

“Seventeen Beduin, members of the al-Uqbi family, filed the six land claims. The complex and often bitter legal proceedings went on for over six years, and discussed in detail the history of the Negev Beduin and land laws dating back to the mid-19th century. The Beduin claim the land had belonged to their families since before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and that it had come into their possession by means of purchase and inheritance over generations.”

“Significantly, the land in question – south of the Beduin city of Rahat – includes the hotly contested area known as al-Arakib, the site of an ongoing and bitter conflict between Beduin and the state. Temporary shacks built by the Beduin in al-Arakib were demolished by the state and rebuilt on more than 10 occasions, the last in 2010, and last year the state filed a NIS 1.8 million lawsuit against two Beduin families over the issue.”

Guardian interviewee Oren Yiftachel appeared as an expert witness on behalf of the plaintiffs. The Judge took the unusual step of noting in her closing remarks Yiftachel’s somewhat less than professional behavior in that role.

“I felt uncomfortable with Prof. Yiftachel’s cross-examination when it transpired that he relied on sources and quoted from them without bothering to read them, instead he quoted from quotes that appeared in a different source. The expert’s squirming on the witness stand on this matter, not only left an uncomfortable feeling, more accurately a sense of embarrassment for the expert, for the predicament in which he found himself. The expert should not only be objective, in offering his opinion, but he should also read the sources to which he refers, or he should immediately state, without prevaricating, that he relied on secondary sources instead of undergoing lengthy and embarrassing questioning, at the end of which he confesses that that is the case, and there is no need to add more. A glimpse of his cross examination will suffice and I will not expound further on this.”

Judge Dovrat’s decision makes for fascinating reading, especially to anyone interested in the issue of the Ottoman-era land laws which are so central to the Al Arakib dispute. The entire decision is available in Hebrew here. Sections of the decision relating to Oren Yiftachel’s testimony can be read in English here and a newspaper report on the case here.

“They [the plaintiffs] also contended that the Ottoman, and later the British, authorities had granted legal autonomy to the Negev Beduin to organize land ownership according to Beduin law, which is why it was not registered as theirs in the Tabu.

However, the court did not accept this claim, saying that if the Ottoman authorities had wished to exempt a particular population from the law, then they would have done so explicitly.

Rejecting the claims, Judge Sarah Dovrat concluded the the land in question had not been “assigned to the plaintiffs, nor held by them under conditions required by law.”

“Regardless of whether the land was Mawat or Miri, the complainants must still prove their rights to the land by proof of its registration in the Tabu,” the judge said.”

….

“The judge held that the plaintiffs’ documents indicated that they knew they had a duty to register land in the “Tabu” (the land registry) but had not wanted to do so. “The state said that although the complainants are not entitled to compensation, it has been willing to negotiate with them,” the judge added. “It is a shame that these negotiations did not reach any agreement.””

This, however, is unlikely to be the last we will hear of Al Arakib either in the Israeli courts or on the pages of the Guardian as the plaintiffs are apparently now considering appealing to the Supreme Court. 

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