Be’er Sheva District Court okays gov’t petition, orders leaders of illegal ‘Al Arakib’ squatters camp to reimburse State’s expenses.
On Monday, Be’er Sheva’s District Court published its decision on a petition submitted by six anarchist activists, members of the Abu Madiam Bedouin tribe, leaders of a protracted battle against the State of Israel at “Al Arakib,” an illegal squatters’ camp that began to take shape in 1999 on State land some 10 kilometers north of Be’er Sheva.
The Regavim Movement, which has been involved in the Al Arakib case for years, welcomed the District Court decision, and called on the authorities to fast-track the legal process of clarifying the status of land in the Negev.
Members of the Madiam and Al-Ukbi families from the town of Rahat trespassed on State land, building and re-building an illegal “village” over 150 times(!), while claiming that the land they had seized has been owned by their families for generations. Under the stewardship of leftist organizations, Al Arakib became a symbol of the “heroic steadfastness” of the Bedouin battle for the lands on which they claim to have lived for hundreds of years – claims that Israel’s Supreme Court rejected in a detailed and in-depth decision handed down in 2015.
In 2011, the Israeli government charged 34 key “activists” in a civil suit, demanding that they be required to bear financial responsibility for eight enforcement sweeps carried out in 2010 to remove squatters from the site which cost the Israeli taxpayer some NIS 1.6 million ($459,624). The costs included removal of illegal structures, security arrangements, subcontractors, helicopter reconnaissance, aerial surveillance balloons, transportation of enforcement personnel, and refuse removal to a licensed dump.
As the lawsuit proceeded, 28 of the activists reached compromise agreements with the State, and reimbursed some NIS 300,000 ($86,180). In 2017, the Magistrates Court determined that the remaining six defendants, 20% of the original number charged, would pay the State NIS 360,000 ($103,415) – some 20% of the damages incurred by the state.
The six defendants, headed by Sheikh Sayyach Abu a’Madiam (the central figure in the creation of the illegal squatters camp, who recently completed a prison sentence for 17 counts of trespassing), appealed to the District Court against the Magistrate Court’s decision, once again raising claims of ownership of the property. At the same time, the State appealed against the very low compensation awarded by the Magistrates Court, and sought compensation for the full sum of NIS 1.6 million.
The Be’er Sheva District Court rejected the defendants’ appeal, and added that “the State acted appropriately in bringing a lawsuit charging the squatters, who are the “collective wrongdoers” in this matter, for compensation. It is not reasonable to expect the State to bear the heavy burden of expenses caused by the repeated, unlawful actions of individuals.”
Judges Ariel Vago, Alon Infeld and Gad Gidon accepted the State’s appeal, and found that due to their refusal to reach a compromise, the six “activist” lawbreakers must pay NIS 1.6 million, the full amount of the damage incurred by the State, minus the sum paid by the other defendants who had agreed to the State’s compromise offer. The case was prosecuted by the State Attorney for Civil Affairs (Southern Region), with the assistance of the Israel Lands Authority, the Israel Police, and the Green Police.
Regavim, which has been involved in the case for many years, welcomed the District Court decision:
“This judgement, like the decisions in the earlier cases regarding Al Arakib, decimates the fake Al Arakib narrative, and it must serve as a catalyst for progress toward clarification of the legal status of the lands of the Negev, including full registration of ownership of privately-owned land, in accordance with Israeli law and not according to Bedouin folklore. This is the only way to resolve, at long last, the issue of land ownership in the Negev, which will clear the way for regulation of Bedouin settlement, for the benefit of the Negev and the State of Israel as a whole.”