Court eases conditions of Al-Araqib activist house arrest

(Beer el-Sabe, Israel) On 21 March 2011, the Magistrates' Court in Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) accepted a motion filed by Adalah Attorney Arwa Hleihel and allowed Mr. Hamza Abu-Medeghem to go out to work, easing the conditions of his house arrest, to which he has been confined for over two months.

(Beer el-Sabe, Israel) On 21 March 2011, the Magistrates' Court in Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) accepted a motion filed by Adalah Attorney Arwa Hleihel and allowed Mr. Hamza Abu-Medeghem to go out to work, easing the conditions of his house arrest, to which he has been confined for over two months.

Mr. Abu-Medeghem, of the unrecognized village of Al-Araqib was arrested on 17 January 2011, at the twelfth demolition of the village. The eight other villagers and activists who were also arrested on that day were soon released, and Abu-Medeghem alone was charged with assaulting police officers and sentenced to house arrest until the end of his proceedings.

The court reexamined the conditions under which Mr. Abu-Medeghem was being held, and permitted the father of five to return to his work. Adalah is currently representing eight villagers from Al-Araqib in legal proceedings.

Background on Al-Araqib

The nearly 300 residents of Al-Araqib, half of whom are children, have been living on and cultivating their ancestral land for decades. In 1951, the villagers (primarily of the Al-Touri, Abu-Medeghem, Abu-Freih and Abu-Zayed tribes) were removed from their land and confined, with all other Arab Bedouin tribes, to the Siyag triangle region of the northern Naqab. The Israeli military authorities promised the families that they would be allowed to return to Al-Araqib in six months. Throughout the military regime, which lasted from 1948 to 1966, the villagers attempted unsuccessfully to return to their lands that the state had appropriated indefinitely for military use.


In 1972, the Israeli authorities began to allow citizens to submit land registration applications under The Land Registration Ordinance – 1969. The families of Al-Araqib submitted applications for their land and made a concerted, though ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to return. Over the next two decades, little activity took place, save for an effort by the Israel Land Administration (ILA) to cultivate the land in 1991 and 1992 which prompted the villagers' intervention and resulted in the ILA issuing a public apology. Finally, in 1998, the current Sheikh Sayyah, his children, and 45 families returned to their lands and began their struggle for recognition of the village from the state.


Nearly 100,000 Arab Bedouin currently live in 34 unrecognized villages in the Naqab, referred to by Israel as "illegal clusters". With no official status, these villages are excluded from state planning and government maps, have no local councils, and receive little-to-no basic services, including electricity, water, telephone lines, or education or health facilities. Israel views the inhabitants as “trespassers on state land,” and is seeking to evacuate them, concentrate them into over-crowded and impoverished townships, and lease their land to individual Jewish farmers or cooperate with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to plant forests. The land and people of Al-Araqib are threatened by the JNF's "Ambassador Forest" from the south and "God-TV Forest" from the west, despite the fact that all of Al-Araqib remains legally disputed.


The authorities began "preparing the land for planting" at dawn on 27 July 2010. The residents awoke to find themselves surrounded by police officers, some on horseback. The police, carrying guns, tear gas, truncheons and other arms, declared the village a “closed area” and ordered the residents to leave their homes within two minutes, warning that they would be forcibly evicted if they resisted. No less than 1,300 police officers began to demolish the homes while the residents tried to salvage their belongings. A helicopter flew above the village throughout the 13-hour demolition, which razed the 45 homes to the ground and uprooted around 4,500 olive trees. The Israeli Tax Authority was also present and seized the villagers' property in debt to the tax authorities without prior warning. Left homeless and stripped of their belongings, the authorities not only required that the residents pay NIS 22,500 (about $6,000) to retrieve their property, but the police claim to be taking steps to charge the residents of Al-Araqib with demolition expenses that the Israeli government has incurred.


In August 2010, in response to the initial demolitions, Adalah requested an immediate criminal investigation into police officers, violent destruction of the village and the use of brutal force against residents, leaders and activists. In October 2010, Adalah on behalf of ten Israeli NGOs, submitted a position paper to the authorities demanding that the state halt the demolition of the villages in the Naqab on the grounds that the policy violates the constitutional rights of the Arab Bedouin to dignity, equality and property.


The villagers, who in the intervening seven months, have lived in makeshift tents, are also using other legal channels to halt the aggressive government campaign of demolitions. Following the 9th demolition on 16 January 2011, the villagers sought and obtained an injunction against the JNF to halt its planting work in the village. On 20 January 2011, however, the judge denied an appeal to extend the injunction but recommended that the JNF not undertake further work until a final resolution was reached. Despite the recommendation, the JNF has resumed its work and the attacks on villagers have increased in both number and brutality. Many activists and villagers, both adults and children, have been arrested and injured but vow to remain and keep rebuilding until the government recognizes their rights to their ancestral land.