Oren Yiftachel* - Ben-Gurion University
Abstract: The paper analyzes a recent challenge launched in court (the 'al-Uqbi case') against a long standing Israeli 'empty Negev' legal doctrine which has made it all but impossible for traditional land holders to gain legal ownership. The current challenge relates to global debates on issues of indigenous rights, customary law, legal pluralism and transitional justice.
Israeli legal doctrine maintains that lands held by indigenous Bedouins before 1948 should be classified as 'mewat' ('dead') and consequently be registered as state property, much like the 'terra nullius' approach in other settler societies.
This doctrine stands behind on-going dispossession of Bedouins in the Negev and the West Bank, which has caused decades of deprivation, poverty and pervasive criminalization, as well as modernizing urbanization for about half the Bedouins.
The paper presents a systematic challenge to the various pillars of the 'empty Negev' doctrine. It shows how Israel has 'emptied' the land 'backwards' by dispossessing Bedouins due to their ancestors' putative inaction vis the previous Ottoman and British regimes. The state refuses to recognize the autonomous legal system under which Bedouin managed their land prior to the Israeli regime. The discussion of the paper contributes both to theories of the legal geographies of settler societies, and to the on-going battle over democracy and human rights in Israel/Palestine.