Israeli authorities have demolished Al-Araqib over 100 times. Before heading to prison for rebuilding and staying on his land, the village’s leader says he knows justice is on his side.
“I have a good feeling I’ll be in prison alongside Netanyahu,” Sheikh Sayeh Abu Madi’am jokes, sitting in a tent in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al-Araqib, which Israeli authorities have demolished well over 100 times — 136 times, to be exact.
Later this month, Abu Madi’am is supposed to begin serving a 10-month prison sentence for unlawfully entering and trespassing on public land — his village’s land. A court case to resolve whether he owns the land, which his lawyers say should have been concluded before he could be convicted of trespassing on it, is still pending.
“I did not steal, I did not cheat,” Abu Madi’am says. “The law recognizes property purchased by Jews before 1948 but it does not recognize a Bedouin who bought land from another Bedouin in 1905. Our cemetery has been here since 1914. Where was the Israeli government back then?”
Al-Araqib, located just a few miles from Be’er Sheva in the south, has become a symbol of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli efforts to disposes the Bedouin community of their land and homes in the Negev, or al-Naqab in Arabic.
Al-Araqib’s land was expropriated under a 1953 law that allowed the state to easily take land for purposes of “development, settlement, and security.” Israeli authorities have never used the land, however, for any purpose.
In the 1970s, Israel allowed Bedouins to file land ownership claims. At least on paper, it offered them a fair process for adjudicating such claims. In the early 2000s, however, the state froze that process and began filing counter claims on plots of land claimed by Bedouin citizens of Israel, seeking to register the plots as state land. That’s what happened when Al-Araqib filed an ownership claim.
The state has a 100-percent success rate in all of the counter claims it has filed.
I first met the sheikh in 2009 at the village’s first protest demanding that Israel connect their homes to water, electricity, and sewage grids. Israel refuses to connect...Read More