Finalizing the Evidence Stage
Yesterday, 6. December 2020, at the Beersheba District Court, after more than ten years, we finalized the evidence stage of the land claim case of the indigenous tribes of Abu Mudighem (al-Turi) and Abu Frih. This (longish...) post summarizes the day in court.
In effect, this is actually a preliminary trial, adjudicating whether the expropriation of the land during the early 1950s, is legal. The act was implemented under martial law without notifying the local indigenous population in 1951. After this preliminary trial we should move to the main claim regarding the ownership of the lands in question. The division of this case into two was one of many tactics used by the state to delay, prolong and exhaust the indigenous people, who have been waiting for justice over seven decades. This particular trial has already been in process for over a decade.
Yesterday a cross-examination of two key state witnesses was conducted. The two were Haggai Sela – chief planner for the Israel Land Authority (South) and Prof. Ruth Kark, a geography professor, and a serial expert witness for state claims of dispossessing the Bedouins. Yet the examination of the two, carried out skillfully by At. Michael Sfard and Carmel Pomerantz, was replete with holes, contradictions and inconsistencies. In effect, at the end of the day, it appears as if the two experts strengthened the Bedouins` arguments more than the government`s.
First, Haggai Sela, in a long and somewhat confusing set of replies to Sfard`s questions, confirmed that for more than thirty years following the expropriation, there were no plans for development or settling the land. These are the goals for which the expropriation was officially made, answering an `immediate national need` in 1951. Sela also confirmed that it took 50 years for the plans for resulting in some development, obviating the lack of need for this land during the 1950s. Only 50 years following the eviction of the tribes, minor development of small parts of their land began in the form of afforestation and settlement of two small villages. Ironically, both villages were originally planned for Bedouins – quite the opposite of the official purpose of the expropriation.
Second, Ruth Kark attempted to contradict one of the main expert witnesses supporting the Bedouin claims – Prof. Gadi Algazi, who had found `smoking gun` evidence showing the military government and civil leaders decided to evict Araqib`s Bedouins from their land in the early 1950s. Efforts were then headed by Moshe Dayan – one of Israel`s most famous leaders. Kark claimed she has new evidence that the tribes were relocated to the arid Eastern Negev `willingly` and were properly legally represented, but failed to support her claims by any new evidence. Against the evidence to the contrary, she had to agree that the tribes `had no choice` and were `powerless to resist` the state`s clear intention to remove them from their land.
On the face of it, forced removal and lack of plans for the expropriated land may be grounds to rescind the expropriation. However, given Israel`s lack of constitution and key legal precedents, it`s hard to imagine the judge (Geu`la Levin) would deem the expropriation illegal. But we hope she would state in her judgement that the tribes were evicted against their will and hence are not trespassers as the state claim. We also hope that judge could note than the land was not needed at the time of expropriation. This could help a range of other battles around forced removal, delivery of services and building permits among the Bedouin Arabs of southern Israel/Palestine.
The next stage is the preparation of closing written legal arguments, for which a hearing is set in about 12 months. While this case is slow and frustrating, it is a catalyst for revealing the troubled, colonial history of the region, in which its original inhabitants were conquered, evicted and dispossessed. The profound damage to their life is evident until this very day, and must be rectified. The Negev (Naqab) Bedouins are the most displaced and dispossessed group of Palestinian Arabs living under Israeli rule. Their plight is a grim reminder to the on-going power of colonialism through planning, and the inter-generational marginalization this racist policy has caused.
Obviously, this struggle is a marathon, and yesterday was a significant day in achieving some correction of the historical and perhaps legal records. I would like to highlight my great appreciation for the persistence and fighting spirit of the people of Araqib – headed by Sayach Al-Touri Abu-Mudighem and Awad Abu-Frih, as well as attorneys Michael Sfard and Carmel Pomerantz, and other experts in the case – Gadi Algazi, Ahmad Amara and Sandi Kedar.
Photo: The legal team and the claimants in court. Source: Oren Yiftachel