Be’er Sheva Court ruling on Guardian activists’ pet subject

 A guest post by Hadar Sela

As long-time readers of Cif Watch are well aware, the subject of the demolition of repeatedly illegally constructed buildings at Al Arakib in the Negev has been adopted by the Guardian as something of a cause celebre.

In July 2010 CiF provided a platform for Neve Gordon to accuse Israel of carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Negev Bedouin when illegally built structures in Al Arakib were demolished by the Israeli authorities and the Guardian still carries a video on the subject.

In March 2011 Harriet Sherwood jumped on the bandwagon with her report from Al Arakib, quoting Ben Gurion University’s Professor Oren Yiftachel (Neve Gordon’s colleague) as an authority on “Judaisation of the Negev”.

In October 2011 CiF ran an article by MK Talab el Sana which repeated the ‘ethnic cleansing’ theme, as did a letter signed by most of the ‘who’s who’ of British anti-Israel activists published by the Guardian on the same day.

CiF Watch has provided background information and links to the outcomes of some of the many court cases on the subject of Al Arakib here, here, here and here.

On March 15th 2012, Judge Sarah Dovrat of the Be’er Sheva District Court gave her ruling after yet another protracted court case.  

“Seventeen Beduin, members of the al-Uqbi family, filed the six land claims. The complex and often bitter legal proceedings went on for over six years, and discussed in detail the history of the Negev Beduin and land laws dating back to the mid-19th century. The Beduin claim the land had belonged to their families since before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and that it had come into their possession by means of purchase and inheritance over generations.”

“Significantly, the land in question – south of the Beduin city of Rahat – includes the hotly contested area known as al-Arakib, the site of an ongoing and bitter conflict between Beduin and the state. Temporary shacks built by the Beduin in al-Arakib were demolished by the state and rebuilt on more than 10 occasions, the last in 2010, and last year the state filed a NIS 1.8 million lawsuit against two Beduin families over the issue.”

Guardian interviewee Oren Yiftachel appeared as an expert witness on behalf of the plaintiffs. The Judge took the unusual step of noting in her closing remarks Yiftachel’s somewhat less than professional behavior in that role.

“I felt uncomfortable with Prof. Yiftachel’s cross-examination when it transpired that he relied on sources and quoted from them without bothering to read them, instead he quoted from quotes that appeared in a different source. The expert’s squirming on the witness stand on this matter, not only left an uncomfortable feeling, more accurately a sense of embarrassment for the expert, for the predicament in which he found himself. The expert should not only be objective, in offering his opinion, but he should also read the sources to which he refers, or he should immediately state, without prevaricating, that he relied on secondary sources instead of undergoing lengthy and embarrassing questioning, at the end of which he confesses that that is the case, and there is no need to add more. A glimpse of his cross examination will suffice and I will not expound further on this.”

Judge Dovrat’s decision makes for fascinating reading, especially to anyone interested in the issue of the Ottoman-era land laws which are so central to the Al Arakib dispute. The entire decision is available in Hebrew here. Sections of the decision relating to Oren Yiftachel’s testimony can be read in English here and a newspaper report on the case here.

“They [the plaintiffs] also contended that the Ottoman, and later the British, authorities had granted legal autonomy to the Negev Beduin to organize land ownership according to Beduin law, which is why it was not registered as theirs in the Tabu.

However, the court did not accept this claim, saying that if the Ottoman authorities had wished to exempt a particular population from the law, then they would have done so explicitly.

Rejecting the claims, Judge Sarah Dovrat concluded the the land in question had not been “assigned to the plaintiffs, nor held by them under conditions required by law.”

“Regardless of whether the land was Mawat or Miri, the complainants must still prove their rights to the land by proof of its registration in the Tabu,” the judge said.”


“The judge held that the plaintiffs’ documents indicated that they knew they had a duty to register land in the “Tabu” (the land registry) but had not wanted to do so. “The state said that although the complainants are not entitled to compensation, it has been willing to negotiate with them,” the judge added. “It is a shame that these negotiations did not reach any agreement.””

This, however, is unlikely to be the last we will hear of Al Arakib either in the Israeli courts or on the pages of the Guardian as the plaintiffs are apparently now considering appealing to the Supreme Court. 

9 replies »

  1. Thank you as ever for your own searching out and reading of first hand sources and hence the authoritative information you supply.

    It is interesting to remember that when the Guardian was discussing the disputed ownership of land by Bedouin in Egypt they were seen as a nuisance, as an unruly thieving source and this by the same Harriet Sherwood who characterises them in Israel as an indigenous suffering population.

    The very definition of hypocrisy

  2. Terrific article, Hadar. So revealing to see the real ignorance and blatant propaganda role of Oren Yiftachel and Neve Gordon, who have played and continue to play such a malign and self-righteous role in spreading disgusting lies about Israel in their campaigns of delegitimatization, using their academic status, which is in fields quite other than law and the history of Ottoman land regulation, to lend themselves international credibility.

  3. Israel’s leftist Supreme Court has already nullified much of the Ottoman land law Jews relied on to claim “adverse possession” ownership in Judea and Samaria.

    It would not surprise me at all if it came to a similar conclusion in the contested Negev land cases.

  4. This, unfortunately, is true:

    “This, however, is unlikely to be the last we will hear of Al Arakib either in the Israeli courts or on the pages of the Guardian as the plaintiffs are apparently now considering appealing to the Supreme Court.’

    And then, I suppose, an attempt via the ICC.

  5. A fantasric headline: The Israelis keep bulldozing their land…

    Interesting… The “Israelis”!? Maybe this moronic pseudo journalist thinks that the bedouins of al-Arakib are not Israelis? Al-Arakib is not in Israel?

    Let’s say that a British squatter has been forcibly removed from a London flat he occupied illegaly. Headline in the Guardian: The English keep kicking out people from their flat.

    A perfect demonstration of Sherwood’s and the Guardian’s professional level.

  6. Nice research Hadar. And presentation too. Easy to read and factual.

    Perhaps you should suggest that The Guardian employ you. Your in-depth responses are a pleasure to read after to rank shallowness of the offerings of the Guardian hacks in Israel.

    If The Guardian replies to your suggestion, you can show it to us here.

    How to put it kindly. They will not want to employ you but their refusal will be a badge of honour.

  7. What amazes me with the Guardian newspaper and many of its prolific commentators on the CiF section of its website is their unbelievable faith that anything the Israeli state does must be bad.

    The Guardian is hemorrhaging money as it fails to adapt to the 24h news era where instant rebuttals of its reporters claims can be easily found, so often I have read an article claiming that the Israeli state has committed an act of terror and then within 1 hour the actual story has turned out to be some self inflicted own goal by a Palestinian terrorist.

    With the claims of the Guardians reporters especially Milne and Sherwood being constantly examined and normally being debunked, it is as I mentioned earlier amazing that the editorial board of the Guardian keeps publishing articles that continue to leave egg on the face of that once proud newspaper.

    I would also suggest that the Guardian has allowed its CiF section to be overrun by a small group of pro-Palestinian activists who’s obvious use of multiple user accounts continues to distort what many of its readers really think, by allowing this group to dictate the conversation the Guardian is deluding itself that many of its readers are interested in what is happening in that area of the world, and of course that the Israelis are always the bad guys / girls.

    Eventually the weary readership of that newspaper will move away towards papers who’s coverage of events in the Middle East are not constrained by left-wing dogma, and who’s editorial board understand that real atrocities being carried out by idiots in the name of their religion are much more newsworthy than imagined atrocities which as day follows night turn out to be publicity stunts by Palestinian activists.

    On a final note I would query why the Israel state is so useless at the art of Public Relations, surely it must be possible to create a PR company who’s sole objective is to counter the constant stream of negative stories?