The Beersheba District Court on Thursday stopped the state from demolishing 51 homes making up the Beduin village of al-Sara in the South.
The 350 villagers, represented by the NGO Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, had already won a cancellation of the demolition orders against their homes in the lower Beersheba Magistrate’s Court, but the district court’s ruling represented a rejection of the state’s appeal.
In 2006, the state had obtained the demolition orders from the magistrate’s court at a hearing without the villagers’ presence. In August 2007, the magistrate’s court froze its earlier demolition orders when Adalah got involved on the villagers’ behalf. In December 2011, the magistrate’s court nullified its earlier demolition orders.
The magistrate’s and district courts found that the state had not presented any serious state interest for uprooting the sizable village that predates the establishment of the state.
According to the courts, the state had no immediate plans for people to settle in the area, nor had it shown any pressing concrete needs to establish a military base or an industrial site there.
The courts agreed that the land was formally state land and that the Beduin could, in a strict sense, be defined as squatters.
However, the courts added that since the Beduin had been on the land for so long, were not causing any problems, and the state could not present a compelling reason to uproot them, there was no basis to demolish the village.
Adalah lawyer Souhad Bishara noted that the courts’ reasoning appeared to differ from a November 2013 decision allowing demolition of a different southern Beduin village, Umm el-Hieran, where the state had a long-term plan for settlement already approved and ready to be implemented.
Bishara added that Adalah had filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on Thursday on the Umm el-Hieran demolition.
She believed that the reason Beduin villages should not be demolished is inherent in their having lived on the land for a long time, and that the state should not, as she saw it, uproot and demolish existing villages simply to place new people with no prior connection to the land in the area.
Ari Briggs, international relations director of Regavim, an organization dedicated to preserving Israel’s national lands, told The Jerusalem Post that “Regavim is shocked by this decision to allow squatters to continue to break the law on the basis that the government does not have immediate plans to use the land the squatters have usurped.”
“This is an extremely strange interpretation of the law by the Beersheba District Court and is basically an open invitation allowing for the effective invasion of unused land all over the state by squatters,” he said.
“Based on aerial photography of the area taken by the British in 1945, no village is seen where today the squatter village of al-Sara sits. This disproves the claim that it predates the establishment of the State of Israel and is one of many myths used to hinder exposure of the truth regarding the Beduin squatters in the Negev.”
Ariel Ben Solomon contributed to this report.