The issue of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Naqab desert of Israel is one that dates back to Ottoman times. Recent developments have pushed the situation to the brink, with the Israeli government’s passage of a plan to forcibly urbanize some 30-40,000 Bedouin citizens. The plan will force them off of their ancestral lands (or lands to which the Israeli army forcibly moved them in 1952) and into overcrowded towns with no jobs or infrastructure or pastural land.
The Bedouin have been fighting in the courts for their land rights for decades, with minimum progress and maximum frustration. In the last several years, the government has increased the pace of home demolitions, in some case razing entire villages to the ground.
Recently, we received some good news. A judge in southern Israel ruledin favor of the villagers of Al Sira, one of the 45 or so unrecognized Bedouin villages. The judge ordered the cancellation of demolition orders on 51 structures in the village. Had those orders been carried out, 500 people would have been left homeless. The village is an ancestral one, and though the villagers filed land claims in accordance with Israeli law in 1970, in 2006 they were issued demolition orders by the state claiming they had built there illegally.
While this is great news and the attorneys at Adalah should be commended for their success, it is hard to be optimistic. This ruling, while halting demolition, did nothing to address the root of the problem: land rights. According to the government, the village of Al Sira still does not exist. There are dozens of others like it, and while I hope that this case is used as a precedent to stop future demolitions, it is difficult to predict if that will be the case. For now, though, let’s focus on this one piece of good news.