Bedouin Lands Case: The state’s expert witness has no clear answers
Judicial proceedings in the Bedouin Land Case resumed this morning (Wednesday) at the Beersheba District Court, with Att. Michael Sfard continuing the cross-examination of Prof. Ruth Kark of the Hebrew University, the state’s expert witness.
Among other things Sfard asked: “In your expert opinion submitted to the court, you stated that the Negev lands have always been state land – “Mawat Lands” in Ottoman Law – in which the Bedouins had no ownership rights. How, then, would you explain the fact that when the city of Be’er Sheba was established in 1900, the Ottoman authorities bought the land on which the city was established from the Azazme Bedouin Tribespeople? Why should the government have to pay for the land which was its own property anyway?” Professor Kirk said that she had no clear answer, and that this case was probably an exception.
Sfard later asked how the Jewish National Fund as well as private Jewish buyers were able to purchase from Bedouins some 150 thousand dunams of Negev lands, under the under the British Mandate. “How could the British authorities have duly registered these sales, if Bedouin had no land ownership rights?” Professor Kark admitted that she had no satisfactory answer.
In the earlier part of her testimony today, Prof. Kark stated that Bedouin were making private land sales deals among themselves, but these had no official status. Adv. Sfard asked if she knew that a Tribal Court had long been active in Be’er Sheba, whose judges were Bedouin sheiks deliberating in accordance with Bedouin Customary Law; that this Tribal Court was an official organ of the Ottoman government structure and later the British one as well; and that this court was authorized by the central government to rule on matters of land ownership. Professor Kark said not an expert on Bedouin Law, and admitted that she had no knowledge of important academic books and articles on this subject – such as a new book by Dr. Clinton Bailey, a renowned expert in the subject of the Bedouin.
Judge Sarah Dovrat, who presided over the proceedings, often asking questions of her own, making a reference to a fundamental principle of jurisprudence: customs long current in a given society can eventually crystallize into a binding legal practice. After the conclusion of Prof. Kark’s cross-examination, Adv. Sfard stated that he would ask for Dr. Bailey to file an expert testimony of his own, to clarify the issues which had come up during the proceedings.
The historical-legal issues taken up in these proceedings have direct and highly significant implications for the present-day legal status of the Negev Bedouins. Specifically, they apply to the claim put forward by Bedouin human rights activist Nouri al Okbi, who in this case demands to get back the land at al – Arakib, northwest of Be’er Sheba, from where Nouri and his tribespeople were expelled in 1951.
The next session scheduled for July 7, 2010, before Judge Sarah Dovrat at the Be’er Sheba District Court.
Attorney Michael Sfard 054-4713930,
Nouri al Okbi 0545-465556,
Haya Noach 052-4269011,
Adam Keller 054-2340749