Israeli court approves forced displacement of the Bedouin village Ras Jrabah to expand Jewish city of Dimona

The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court ruled last week that all 500 Bedouin residents of Ras Jrabah, a village that predates the establishment of the State of Israel, must evacuate and demolish their homes by March 2024 in order to expand the Jewish city of Dimona in the south of Israel prompting human rights organizations to charge that the court’s decision provides compelling evidence of Israel’s perpetration of the crime of apartheid.

The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court has issued a judgment on 10 eviction lawsuits filed by the Israel Land Authority (ILA) in May 2019. These lawsuits were directed against 127 residents of Ras Jrabah and their families, comprising the entire population of over 500 residents.

The judgment, issued on 24 July, orders the residents to evacuate the village and demolish their houses by 1 March 2024. Additionally, the residents are obliged to pay a sum of $31,700 to cover legal expenses, according to a press release by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, which represents the residents. It said it will appeal to the District Court against the decision.

Ras Jrabah covers an area of 340 dunums (approximately 84 acres) of lands belonging to the al-Hawashleh tribe, and its residents have lived there for generations. Ras Jrabah is adjacent to the city of Dimona, which was built on lands of the al-Hawashleh tribe.

In the eviction lawsuits, the ILA contended that the residents’ eviction was necessary as their presence there was “hindering the expansion of the city [Dimona].” The ILA intends to build a new neighborhood called “Rotem” on the lands of Ras Jrabah, with thousands of housing units in the eastern part of Dimona. The residents have requested the authorities to integrate them into the new part of Dimona, a city they consider themselves an integral part of, either as a recognized village within the urban space or as a neighborhood that suits their way of life.

However, the Bedouin Development and Settlements Authority in the Naqab (Negev) (“the Bedouin Authority”) – an Israeli government body responsible for all aspects of Bedouin residents’ lives – refused to consider the option of integrating the village into Dimona. The Bedouin Authority stated that it is only possible to evict the residents and resettle them in the nearby Bedouin town of Qasr Al Sir lands that the residents refuse to relocate to as the lands in question belong to other Bedouin families. The Bedouin Authority noted that they are not authorized to offer solutions within Israeli Jewish towns, only in Bedouin towns.

In its ruling, the court disregarded all of the residents’ arguments, despite their decades of continuous residence in the area, and the state being fully aware of their presence there. The judge confirmed that the factual evidence proves that the residents of Ras Jrabah have been residing in the area of present-day Dimona for decades. However, the court was not convinced that the residents lived on the specific lands subject to the eviction lawsuits before the year 1978.

Despite acknowledging that the residents have been living there for nearly 50 years, the court deemed this insufficient to grant them rights to the lands or to obligate the authorities to take them into account in the planning process of the area. Furthermore, the court dismissed the claim that residents have lawful authority to use the land, relying on assurances from military governors as early as the 1950s that they could continue to reside in the area, and noting that the residents did not prove that these assurances were given by an authorized entity.

Regarding racial segregation, the court ruled that although the Bedouin Authority is only authorized to “settle Bedouins” in villages or towns designated exclusively for Bedouins, this does not constitute evidence of racial segregation. Rather, the court outright dismissed the claim of racial segregation, solely based on the fact that individuals from Ras Jrabah are not prevented from purchasing lands in the new neighborhood, which is to be built on the ruins of their village.

The court refused to substantively examine Adalah’s argument that the forcible displacement of the residents of Ras Jrabah for the expansion of the Jewish city of Dimona, and the authorities’ refusal to consider incorporating Ras Jrabah into Dimona, constitutes racial segregation.

The court further dismissed Adalah’s argument that the state is violating the residents’ constitutional right to equality, relying largely on the judgment in the case of Umm al-Hiran. This court determination vividly illustrates how the creation of villages and towns exclusively designated for Bedouins is employed as a legal strategy to exclude Bedouin residents from any Jewish towns or expansions on lands that historically belong to Bedouins, said Adalah in the press release.

The court’s examination of the violation of constitutional rights of the residents essentially concludes that even if any infringement does exist, it is proportionate and appropriate in order to protect “the fundamental property rights of the plaintiff, i.e., those of the general public”.

Adalah said it views the court’s ruling as a stark demonstration of how Israel’s land regime, along with the legal frameworks it has established to facilitate dispossession, creates a system of racial segregation that amounts to the crime of apartheid under international law. Furthermore, it is evident from the court’s ruling, as well as from cases of other villages like Umm al-Hiran, that the rights seemingly guaranteed under Israeli constitutional law do not protect the rights of Palestinians or address the discriminatory principles at the core of Israel’s land policies. Israel’s constitutional values, which include those enshrined in the Jewish Nation State Law and the Basic Law: Israel Lands, perceive the forced eviction of the village of Ras Jrabah for the purpose of Jewish settlement as serving a legitimate aim.

Adalah commented in response to the judgment: “Since the Nakba, the state of Israel has employed a range of tools and policies to forcibly displace the Bedouin residents in the Naqab. Their livelihood has been confined to restricted areas and segregated townships, and they have been subjected to harsh living conditions, with no regard for their basic needs and way of life. The military government was replaced by a range of entities, including the Bedouin Authority, Israel Land Authority, and various law enforcement units that continuously work to displace the indigenous population from their land, utilizing the state’s intricate land system designed to confiscate Palestinian land. This is part of a system of Jewish supremacy that was constitutionally enshrined in the Jewish Nation-State Law, which prioritizes “Jewish settlement” as a value that all state bodies are mandated to promote. Israel’s judicial system approves, time after time, the displacement of Palestinian citizens in favor of Jewish expansions, thereby advancing Israel’s colonial objectives. The forced displacement of Ras Jrabah’s residents to expand the Jewish city of Dimona, which was built on the residents’ lands, serves as clear evidence that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against its Palestinian citizens, and urgent international intervention is necessary to halt it.”

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