Supreme Court rejects Beduin claim to village

Court upholds decision that state has the right to continue planting trees in area around Beduin village Arakib.

Beduin boy on rubble of demolished house 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Beduin boy on rubble of demolished house 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld its decision that the state has the right to continue planting trees in portions of the area around the Arakib village near Beersheba.
The decision rejected the request of the Beduin villagers’ – appealing a 2012 decision against them regarding the ownership of the land – to issue an injunction barring the state from planting in the area.
The court justified the project by saying that it was for the benefit of the general public and for the improvement of the land.
According to the court, the land in question has been abandoned since 1954, at which time it became state land.
Since July 2010, there is a ongoing struggle between the local Beduin and the state, with the villagers’ living areas being repeatedly destroyed by the state and then rebuilt by the Beduin.
The state later filed an NIS 1.8 million lawsuit against two Beduin families over the issue.
In March 2012, the Beersheba District Court rejected six lawsuits brought by Beduin of the Uqbi family regarding private ownership of some 1,000 dunam of land in the Negev and formally endorsed the state’s already de facto ownership over the land.
The family claimed a presence in the area dating back to at least the mid-19th century.
It argued that in 1951 they were evacuated from the land when the IDF confiscated it, and that since then the state has not granted them permission to return, and has said the land belongs to the state and was never privately owned.
At the heart of the case was the debate of whether the Beduin were able to prove that they had private land rights to the disputed plots, despite a lack of formal landtitle deeds showing the land had been registered in their name in the Ottoman land registry, the Tabu. At the time, the court held that the plaintiffs’ documents indicated that they knew they had a duty to register land in the Tabu 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.”
The district court also ordered the complainants to pay legal costs of NIS 50,000 for trial costs.
The Uqbi family appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund’s planting is irrevocably changing the landscape and damaging the land.
The court on Tuesday rejected these arguments, and accepted the state’s contentions that there were no irrevocable changes and no damage to the land and that the area was in fact being improved.
The state supported its claims by noting the complainants’ failure to provide expert reports supporting their claims about damage, instead basing their claims entirely on what it called faulty anecdotal evidence.
The state also said that the lawsuit was filed too late, after the state was already investing in planting in a wide area around Beersheba, of which the work around Arakib was only one part.
Next, the state noted that one of the complainants had a restraining order against him for having previously disturbed planting activities, implying his claims were not trustworthy.
The Supreme Court fined the complainants NIS 6,000 for pursuing a frivolous appeal.