The Bedouin village of Al Araqib in the southern Negev has been demolished for well over 100 times. Its ethnic cleansing follows a similar pattern and logic to that of other Bedouin villages such as Umm Al Hiran, which saw violent ethnic cleansing operations this year, also involving extrajudicial execution of an Israeli Bedouin citizen.
Now the state reaches new heights of Kafkaesque madness: Sheikh Saih Abu Madiam, 68, is sentenced to 10 months in prison, 5 additional months of conditional imprisonment, as well as a fine of 36,000 Shekels (over $10,000), as Haaretz reported (Hebrew).
The offense: Abu Madiam has supposedly trespassed state land – which he claims is his own.
Al Araqib is one of the nearly 40 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Negev. They are unrecognized, because the state expropriated the lands, and refused to recognize the dwelling places of people who have been there long before the state was established. The state has been acting legally against Abu Madiam himself since 1998. In 2006, Abu Madiam has filed a case in the Beersheba District Court for his ancestral lands to be recognized. The case involves hearings from various historical experts, and is only expected to be concluded in some years from now. In the recent state case against Abu Madiam from 2013, the state claimed that his presence on the lands he claims are his, constitute trespassing. The state claimed that until proven otherwise, he was considered a trespasser.
In a court discussion concerning the possible sentence, even the police prosecutor, attorney Gil Assaf, admitted that “this is the first time where a defendant in Israel is tried for such offenses”, and he could therefore not point to precedence which would suggest the fitting penalty… He requested 15 months prison and 90,000 Shekels fine. The judge, Yoav Attar, mentioned in his sentence that he would be harsh with Abu Madiam, despite his age, since he “took no responsibility” and “declared that he intends to continue living in the location”. The judge further admonished Abu Madiam for “insisting on factually living in the location”…”only in order to create facts on the ground”.
Let’s pause there. That last sentence, with “facts on the ground”, should ring many bells, as it is the notion informing Israel’s may illegal settlements. The people who are being ethnically cleansed, are being projected this policy of “creating facts on the ground“, while the state keeps “creating these facts” itself, incrementally and overwhelmingly, to the benefit of the Jewish State. The mentioned case of Umm Al Hiran (where a Jewish-only town called Hiran is to be built on the same location) is a classic case of this ‘overlap’ – the ethnic cleansing state considers the indigenous people to be ‘squatters’ and ‘infiltrators’, while creating new ‘facts on the ground’ atop their dwellings. This has been Israeli policy from the start. As Moshe Dayan said in 1969: “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushu’a in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”
So back to the recent case – judge Attar actually deemed Abu Madiam an “invader”.
Hundreds of Bedouin villagers accompanied Abu Madiam to the court hearing, and Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh was also there – Odeh had been shot by the police with a rubber-coated bullet at Umm Al Hiran earlier this year, during that mentioned ethnic cleansing operation.
The Smadar Ben Natan & Pomerantz law office, representing Abu Madiam in a parallel case, issued a statement of shock (on Facebook, thanks Ofer Neiman):
“We join the shock concerning the outrageous sentence in the matter of the Sheikh Saih [Abu Madiam]. Our office represents the Sheikh Saih and his family in a parallel case, where they are also accused of trespassing their own lands, regarding which they are conducting legal procedures against the state regarding their ownership, already since the 1970’s. Although the state has admitted before the court that in the recent years no such charges were filed, the court does not see that we are speaking about political persecution, vile usage of the regime power and an attempt to foil a legitimate battle of people who are fighting for the right to their lands. Is it possible to imagine a similar situation wherein two private people are fighting over land, where one of them has the authority to imprison the other because of it?”
Bingo. This has been the problem all along. The Israeli-Palestinian “conflict” is not an equal legal battle. It is a case of settler-colonialism, wherein the dispossessed and oppressed who stand up for their rights, are punished by the state. Like with 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi. But this is not only happening in territories occupied in 1967. This is happening in what is often regarded as “Israel proper”. But it would appear that there really isn’t anything truly ‘proper’ about Israel.
* * *