Beduin shepherds walk past tents setup in the Jordan Valley near West Bank city of Jericho.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
The High Court of Justice heard oral argument over whether the state will demolish the Negev Beduin village of al-Zarnug, which was built without permission not only on state land, but also on privately owned Jewish land.
While there have been other legal fights over whether to evict Beduin villages in the South in recent years, this case heard late Tuesday is unique since in the others, the Beduin merely settled without permission on state land – not on private Jewish land as in this case.
In contrast, the Beduin claim that who owns the land is irrelevant since it had been abandoned, that the Jewish landowners do not have plans for the land and that the whole process is a political effort to reduce the Beduin footprint in the South.
Jews bought the land, east of Moshav Netavim and southeast of Beersheba, around 85 years ago.
But in the 1950s the Abu Khedar Beduin tribe entered the land, which had been left abandoned, without permits and built what eventually has amounted to around 300 housing units.
Further, without permission of the private owners, the state has built a series of clinics and support structures for the Beduin village.
According to the NGO Regavim, which seeks to enforce laws regarding Beduin in the South and Palestinians in the West Bank when they build illegally, various negotiations between the state and the Abu Khedar tribe that started in the 1980s eventually led to an agreement in 1998 that they would relocate to the nearby Beduin city of Rahat.
In 2012, Regavim petitioned the Beersheba District Court in its administrative capacity to demolish and evict the Beduin from al-Zarnug, saying that the Beduin had failed to leave and the state had failed to evict them – harming the property rights of the Jewish landowners.
In 2013, the district court issued a mixed ruling, on one hand rejecting Regavim’s request to immediately evict the Beduin, but on the other hand ordering the state to present a plan to relocate the Beduin within three years followed by an additional three years to actually move them.
Regavim has accused the Beduin and the state of doing nothing to implement the 2013 court order and petitioned the High Court to compel them to move the relocation process forward within a set and shortened timeline.
The NGO told the High Court late Tuesday that the state and the Beduin are blatantly violating the landowners’ property rights.
Amir Fisher, Regavim’s lawyer, told the court, “I ask what is the meaning of the fact that there is a Basic Law protecting the right of property ownership? The rights of my clients overcome [the Beduin’s competing rights]. We are four years after the processes... Pick whatever amount of time your honors see as fit [for the relocation]...
already 20 years the state has negotiated” with the Beduin to relocate them without results.
Representing the Beduin, lawyer Noaf Abu Khedar’s public statements indicated that he did not object to them being moved as long as there was a clear, fair and properly funded plan for doing so.
According to Abu Khedar, and a lawyer for Rahat, the bigger problem was that Rahat is objecting to absorbing the tribe, arguing that the city is already impoverished and that it cannot absorb thousands of new residents who will need substantial financial support.
Pressed by Justices Uri Shoham, Isaac Amit and Menahem Mazuz as to why there had been so little progress toward a solution, state attorney Avinoam Segel-El-Ad claimed that there had been progress and that the state was close to proposing a relocation plan.
Segel-El-Ad tried to blame some of the delay on the several changes in interior minister, including recently, which each time requires time for the new minister to get up to date.
He appeared to suggest that the plan would include moving the Abu Khedar tribe to Rahat, but provide more funds to Rahat to both expand for its current residents and for the potential new ones.
While Shoham did not show his cards, Amit and Mazuz did not appear ready to push the state to act in the near future, contending that there was less of a rush since the Jewish landowners had ignored the issue for many years already.
No date was set for a decision, but it appeared that Regavim will eventually win an eviction, just not as soon as it has requested.