al-ʿArāgīb is an unrecognized village west of Route 40, between Lehavim and Goral Junctions. Until the State began repeated demolitions in the village in 2010, around 400 people lived inal-ʿArāgīb. Today, only a few dozen residents remain, in the vicinity of the village cemetery, continuing to wage a struggle against its destruction. Within the area of the village there are ancient cisterns, a cemetery founded in 1914, old huts and several dams.
The village of al-ʿArāgīb was established during the Ottoman period, on land that the village’s inhabitants purchased during the 20th century. In 1953, the military regime ordered the villagers to evacuate temporarily for six months, claiming that the State required the land for army training sessions. After six months, in which the inhabitants lived near their lands and in other parts of the Negev/Naqab, the authorities sought to delay their return, eventually informing the inhabitants that they were forbidden to return to the village at all. According to the villagers, they have never left al-ʿArāgīb and kept on cultivating their fields, grazing their herds in the village’s area and burying their dead in the family’s cemetery. During the 1970s the village’s residents submitted multiple land claims to the settlement officer.
In 1997, Jewish National Fund (JNF) workers began to work in the lands of al-ʿArāgīb. The residents complained about the work on a land for which they had sued for ownership, and the JNF left. From the year 2000, the villagers began to cultivate the lands and sow the fields. In response, the State began to spray the fields and plough them over, in order to destroy the crops. In the beginning of the 2000s, members of the Abu-Madigem family – one of the families that had lived in the village until 1953 – returned to live on their lands in al-ʿArāgīb.
al-ʿArāgīb does not receive any health and education services and residents must travel to the city of Rahaṭ, six kilometers away. The village is not connected to the national electricity grid, and the residents use generators and solar panels to supply their own electricity. Since the village is also not connected to the water supply, the inhabitants are forced to transport water in containers for a distance of 18 km – an expensive process which also negatively impacts the water quality.
The main threat on the unrecognized village of al-ʿArāgīb is the repeated demolitions, the frequent arrests and bullying by enforcement authorities against the villagers. On July 27, 2010, the entire village was demolished by the State, and since then the security forces have returned more than 165 times to demolish it again. On June 12, 2014, most of the buildings were demolished in the village’s cemetery complex, where residents have been living for the past few years.
In the summer of 2019, the enforcement authorities accompanied by the Green Patrol and the “Yoav” special police unit to carry out tours, arrests and demolitions on a daily basis for two months – among the detainees were men, women, minors and Jewish and Arab activists present on the scene, expressing their solidarity with al-ʿArāgīb’s struggle. At the same time, a number of legal hearings are being held regarding the village, one concerning the residents’ land claims, the other, regarding a civil claim filed by the State against the villagers for the costs of the first eight demolitions, as well as numerous court deliberations against the villagers, accused of various charges.
The residents continue to wage a struggle for their village, which in addition to the legal aspect includes a civil struggle, which entails a weekly protest vigil at the nearby Lehavim Junction, rallies, demonstrations and more. The residents want the State to recognize their village in the location it is in today, and to allow them to live in an agricultural settlement on their own lands.
After the repeated demolition of the village by the authorities did not cause the villagers to leave and the struggle for their ancestral land continued, the authorities began to indict the residents on various sections of the law, such as entering public land, trespassing, violation of legal orders, illegal construction, disturbance of a policeman on duty, and even payment for the first eight demolitions. Dozens of cases were opened against the leader of the struggle, Sheikh Sayah and his family. On Tuesday, November 21, 2008, a Supreme Court judge decided not to allow permission to appeal to Sheikh Sayah on unprecedented charges such as entering public land trespassing. These are lands that his family submitted ownership claims for during the 1970s and on which he lived most of his life. On these lands there is a legal debate in court that has yet to be resolved. Although the lands are in dispute, the court ruled that Sheikh Sayah will be sent to prison on 25 December 2018 for a period of ten months, a five-month suspended sentence, and a fine of NIS 36,000.
The villagers continue to hold a weekly protest vigil on Sundays, In January 2019, Amnesty International declared Sheikh Sayah a prisoner of conscience. Sayah was eventually early released from prison on the 23rd of July 2019.
*Other forms of writing: al-Araqib, al-Arakib