Call it dictatorial or simply ironic, the residents of a Bedouin village in Israel's Negev desert are facing peculiar circumstances, where they are being forced to pay for the government expenses involved in demolishing their own homes!
Israeli authorities filed a claim for 1.8 million NIS (more than $500,000) with a court on July 26 for the expense of destroying the structures and evicting the residents of al-'Araqib village as many as 28 times over the past year, reports Amnesty International. The most recent eviction took place on July 25.
The villagers claim that the settlement is within the limits of their ancestral land, but the authorities accuse residents of illegally encroaching "unrecognized" property.
"This lawsuit beggars belief - the Israeli authorities cannot reasonably expect the Bedouin villagers to fund the repeated destruction of their own homes and livelihoods," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director.
The recent demolition of al-'Araqib occurred as a community festival and children's summer camp organized by the residents were progressing. Israeli authorities entered the village with at least 20 vehicles and a bulldozer to demolish makeshift structures, reports Amnesty International quoting local NGOs.
The Israeli authorities are planning to turn the land into forest and have struck a deal with the Jewish National Fund, a semi-governmental organization which has already started landscaping the surrounding land.
Earlier eviction attempts by the administration had reportedly ended in violence and hospitalization of the residents. In July 2010, more than 1,000 police officers entered the village and destroyed as many as 46 homes and other structures, including animal pens, water tanks and olive trees. In February 2010, bulldozers and around 40 riot police forced people into the village cemetery, in an attempt to terrorize them, and subjected them to sponge-tipped bullets and tear gas. Three women and two children were hospitalized after the incident.
Villagers from al-'Araqib tell their story:
Al-'Araqib's Bedouin residents claim their ancestors have owned the land since Ottoman rule, before Israel was established, says Amnesty.
In the early 1950s, the Israeli authorities tricked the residents into leaving the land temporarily saying that the land was needed for military training and promising that they would be allowed to return within six months.
The residents complied with this military order but they were not allowed to return. Instead, various government agencies transferred ownership of the lands to the state.
Only when the families returned in the 1990s, it became clear that Israeli authorities had plans to build a forest on the village. Residents filed fresh land ownership claims in Israeli courts, some of which are still pending.