Israel’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a leading activist in the fight over land rights in the unrecognized Arab-Bedouin village of Al-Araqib, leaving in place a 10 month jail sentence against 69-year-old Sheikh Sayekh Abu Madi’am al-Touri for trespassing on his own land.
The court rejected Abu Madi’am’s argument that the state was criminalizing protest over Israel’s policies over Arab-Bedouin land claims. Consequently the Bedouin leader is to begin serving his sentence next month. Arab-Bedouin rights activists claim the decision will have broader implications for residents of the Negev’s unrecognized Bedouin villages which, as they are denied governmental recognition, are deprived of any infrastructure.
Abu Madi’am was convicted of 19 counts of trespassing, for illegal entry on public land, and for violating a legal order against resettling on land that had been cleared of residents. The court rejected his claims that legal proceedings on the ownership of land are pending and that he should be allowed to remain on his land until a final decision is made.
Abu Madi’am’s lawyer, Shada Ibn Bari, said in response: “While the issue of the ownership of the land at Al-Araqib is still pending, the Supreme Court has decided to turn tens of thousands of people in the unrecognized villages, who are fighting for a dignified existence in the Negev, into criminals. The court has sent a dangerous message to the entire Bedouin community that anyone who dares protest the looting of lands and the demolition of homes and who fights for the recognition of the villages will find himself in detention.”
Human rights attorney Michael Sfard, a lawyer representing Bedouin residents seeking to remain on their lands, called the issue a social problem that goes beyond the case of a specific individual. Abu Madi’am’s case, Sfard said, is but one of tens or even hundreds of thousands of Arab-Bedouin living on their “historic land in an unrecognized manner.”
The Chairman of the Joint List Knesset faction, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), accused the authorities of demolishing homes in the village as part of a drive to have “as much land as possible with as few Arabs as possible.” Odeh called Abu Madi’am “a symbol of the non-violent fight on behalf of the rights of the residents to maintain their homes and live on the land of their forefathers.”