Court saves unrecognized Beduin village

Unprecedented ruling revokes demolition orders, will prevent razing of 51 buildings in Beduin village of al-Sira in Negev.

A Beduin man rides a horse in al-Arakib 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
A Beduin man rides a horse in al-Arakib 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
The Kiryat Gat Magistrate’s Court ordered the state on Tuesday to revoke 51 demolition orders against buildings in the unrecognized Beduin village of al-Sira.
The unprecedented ruling came in response to requests filed in 2006 by the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights after the state issued ex-parte demolition orders against almost all the buildings in the village, southeast of Beersheba.
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Khalil Alamour, a member of al-Sira’s village committee and its spokesman, praised the judge’s decision, saying that had the state demolished the houses over 300 people would have lost their homes.
“This is the biggest gift that the court could have given us, and for this we thank the judge,” Alamour told The Jerusalem Post after the ruling, adding that his fellow villagers “started to breathe again” when they heard that the demolition orders had been canceled.
Alamour, who is one of the 44 villagers named on the lawsuit, added that the judgement had restored al-Sira residents’ faith in the judicial system, and said he hoped the court would rule in their favor again if the state appeals the ruling in the district court.
“Our people just want to live in peace, as full citizens. That’s our dream. We don’t want anything more than that,” he said.
Approximately half of the Negev’s Beduin population – an estimated 70,000 people – live in 45 unrecognized villages, of which 10 are in the process of receiving official recognition from the state. The unrecognized villages, including al-Sira, are considered illegal and do not receive government services like electricity or water.
Al-Sira is one of the larger unrecognized villages, and is home to around 500 people, most of whom are members of the al- Nasasra tribe. The villagers say they have lived in the village for seven generations, since before the state was established in 1948.
According to village spokesman Alamour, the residents have documents that they say prove their ownership of the land, but their requests to have the authorities recognize that ownership have been unsuccessful.
In the court case, which dragged on for five years, the state argued that it filed the demolition orders under the Planning and Building Law, because the buildings had been erected without a permit on land confiscated by the state under the Negev Land Acquisition (Peace Treaty with Egypt) Law. Demolishing the unauthorized buildings was, the state claimed, in the public interest.
Among other things, Adalah attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Murad al-Sana, representing the al-Sira residents, argued that the demolition orders were pasted on villagers’ doors without prior warning and that the state had not made any attempt to knock on residents’ doors and talk to homeowners or to find out who those homeowners were. Adalah further argued that demolishing the houses would violate the villagers’ constitutional rights.
In his ruling, Judge Israel Pablo Akselrad said the state’s claims that it was in the public’s interest to raze unauthorized buildings must be weighed against the specific circumstances of the villagers.
“These buildings are home to over 300 people,” the judge said. “It’s clear that implementing the demolition orders would mean making a large group of people homeless. It is important to reiterate that these people and their families have lived there for decades, during which dozens of houses were built without any protest by the state.”
However, Akselrad also noted that the current situation regarding unauthorized buildings could not continue and said the state should make an effort to resolve the conflict through a “systematic policy,” rather than the courts.
Attorney Suhad Bishara of Adalah, who filed the petition on behalf of al-Sira’s residents, said Akselrad’s ruling set a precedent for the Negev’s unrecognized villages and called on the government to open an “honest dialogue in good faith” with village residents about their land rights.
“This ruling means that the state cannot continue with its unilateral policy against the unrecognized villages without taking into account the villagers’ basic constitutional rights,” Bishara said.
Tuesday’s ruling comes after the controversy over Beduin land rights reached new highs in September, when the government approved an NIS 6.8 billion plan to deal with the unrecognized villages. Dubbed the Prawer Plan, the initiative will relocate around 20,000 to 30,000 Beduin from unrecognized villages to recognized settlements including the towns of Rahat and Kuseifa.
Those relocated will receive financial compensation as well as alternative plots of land. However, Beduin leaders and civil rights groups have slammed the plan as unworkable partly because it does not take into account the Beduin extended family and tribal structure.