The Beersheva District Court ruled on Monday against the six remaining defendants in a protracted legal battle with the State of Israel over Al Arakib, an illegal camp near Beersheva.

The six must now pay the state some NIS 1.6 million ($460,000) in compensation.

Al Arakib is an illegal squatters’ camp that began to take shape in 1999 on state land some six miles north of Beersheva. Members of the Abu Madiam and Al-Ukbi Bedouin clans from the Negev town of Rahat built and rebuilt the illegal “village” more than 150 times, while claiming that the land had been owned by their families for generations.

Under the stewardship of leftist organizations, Al Arakib became a symbol of the “heroic steadfastness” of the Bedouin battle for the lands on which they claim to have lived for hundreds of years—claims Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected in a detailed and in-depth decision handed down in 2015.

In 2011, the Israeli government charged 34 key “activists” in a civil suit, demanding that they be required to bear financial responsibility for eight enforcement sweeps carried out in 2010 to remove squatters from the site which had cost the Israeli taxpayer some $460,000. The costs included removal of illegal structures, security arrangements, subcontractors, helicopter reconnaissance, aerial surveillance balloons, transportation of enforcement personnel and the removal of refuse to a licensed dump.

As the lawsuit proceeded, 28 of the activists reached compromise agreements with the state, and reimbursed some $86,000. In 2017, the Magistrates Court determined that the remaining six defendants would pay the state $103,500—some 20 percent of the damages incurred by the state.

The six defendants, headed by Sheikh Sayyach Abu a’Madiam (the central figure in the creation of the illegal squatters’ camp, who recently completed a prison sentence for 17 counts of trespassing), appealed to the District Court against the Magistrate Court’s decision, once again raising claims of ownership of the property. At the same time, the state appealed against the very low compensation awarded by the Magistrates Court and sought compensation for the full sum of $460,000.

The Beersheva District Court rejected the defendants’ appeal, and added that “the state acted appropriately in bringing a lawsuit charging the squatters, who are the ‘collective wrongdoers’ in this matter, for compensation. It is not reasonable to expect the state to bear the heavy burden of expenses caused by the repeated, unlawful actions of individuals.”

Judges Ariel Vago, Alon Infeld and Gad Gidon accepted the state’s appeal and found that due to their refusal to reach a compromise, the six “activist” lawbreakers must pay the full amount, minus the sum paid by the other defendants who had agreed to the state’s compromise offer.

Israeli NGO Regavim, which has been involved in the case for many years, welcomed the court’s decision:

“This judgement, like the decisions in the earlier cases regarding Al Arakib, decimates the fake Al Arakib narrative, and it must serve as a catalyst for progress toward clarification of the legal status of the lands of the Negev, including full registration of ownership of privately-owned land, in accordance with Israeli law and not according to Bedouin folklore. This is the only way to resolve, at long last, the issue of land ownership in the Negev, which will clear the way for regulation of Bedouin settlement, for the benefit of the Negev and the State of Israel as a whole.”

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