Israeli authorities are suing residents of a makeshift Bedouin village for the cost of repeatedly evicting them and razing “illegal structures” where they live, an official said on Wednesday.
“They built about 40 structures there for which they have no (building) rights,” Israel Land Administration spokeswoman Ortal Tzabar told AFP.
“They have already invaded the site more than 20 times, putting up huts and buildings and it costs us, for policemen and bulldozers and manpower, a huge amount.”
“We added it up and found that the cost of evictions so far is 1.8 million shekels ($529,400, 367,300 euros) she said.
A lawsuit for that amount was filed on Tuesday in a court in Beersheva, the capital of southern Israel’s Negev desert region, where the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib which is not recognised by Israeli authorities regularly rises and falls.
An Israeli non-governmental group, Bedouin-Jewish Justice, reported in March that the homes there had been destroyed and rebuilt 21 times since July 2010.
The Bedouins say they own hundreds of thousands of dunums (each equivalent to 1,000 square metres) of land in the Negev but Israel rejects these claims, saying that after renting state-owned land for agricultural use for several years they began squatting there in 1998.
The Land Aministration’s lawsuit is against 34 members of the Abu Mediam and Abu Jabber clans, who it said are seeking to establish claims in Al-Araqib, although “they have legal houses built by the state of Israel in (the Negev township of) Rahat.”
Mumtaz Hatib, of the Negev Coexistence Forum, told AFP on Wednesday evening that the respondents had yet to receive copies of the suit and would react when they had studied the documents.
The Jewish state has never recognised Bedouin claims of land ownership in the Negev and wants the population to relocate into government-planned townships such as Rahat and six others.
But for the Bedouins such a move would involve giving up their claim to the land — a step which most of them are unwilling to take.
Around 160,000 Bedouins live in Israel, more than half of whom live in unrecognised villages in the Negev without municipal services like water and electricity. Many of the remainder also live in extreme poverty.