How Criminalization of the Victim Is Done


Amos Gvirtz – TRANSCEND Media Service

11 Sep 2018 – It is quite remarkable to trace the process of criminalizing the victim, and to examine this process as it plays out in the case of the Bedouins of the Negev and in the specific case of Sheikh Sayakh from al-Araqeeb.

For hundreds and perhaps thousands of years the Bedouins have lived in the Negev where the desert climate forced most if not all of them to develop a nomadic, and over the course of time, a semi-nomadic lifestyle, remaining sedentary during the rainy season and with some of them moving during the dry season to search for grazing lands for their flocks of sheep and goats.  To the best of my knowledge, none of the previous rulers of the country throughout known history have attempted to prevent the Bedouins from maintaining their unique way of life.  This is not so in the case of Israel.

During the War of Independence (1948) most of the Bedouins were expelled from the country, and the deportations continued even after the ceasefire, until 1959.  In the 1950’s most of the Bedouins who remained were concentrated in the Sayag area, which is situated to the south of the West Bank.  The state refused to recognize the Bedouin settlements which had existed there before the establishment of the state, and also denied legal status to the villages which it had set up when transferring the tribes (while stealing their lands) to the Sayag area. Most of the Negev areas that had served as grazing land were expropriated and closed off to the Bedouins, and towards the end of the 1960’s the state started implementing its policy of concentrating all the Bedouins in townships.  In other words, Israel is the first governing power to deliver a mortal blow to the existence and the unique lifestyle of the Negev Bedouins.

Like any society we Israelis like to tell ourselves that we are good and that our enemies are bad.  So what do we do when by any measure what has been and is being done to the Bedouins is criminal, turning us into the baddies and them into the victims?  We create a narrative and a legal smokescreen that turns the original population of the Negev into criminals just for trying to preserve their lands and their way of life.  I call this the criminalization of the victim.

After the establishment of the state, military rule was imposed on all Arab citizens who remained in the country which limited the Bedouin’s ability to search for grazing lands for their flocks.  Furthermore, wide areas of land were expropriated and transferred to state ownership effectively closing them off as grazing lands.

Unlike previous ruling powers the Israeli government refuses to recognize traditional Bedouin ownership of land, recognizing only ownership in cases that had been registered with the Ottoman Land Authority (tabu), which the vast majority of the Bedouins had not done, preferring to rely on traditional ownership. The government then put forward the claim in court that as the Bedouins are nomadic they have a tenuous connection with the land, creating a basis for legal precedents denying traditional Bedouin ownership of land.  The Bedouin’s right to live on the land would be recognized only if they could prove that they had been living there continuously since 1858 – the year the Ottomans enacted their land law. Thus every Bedouin who insists on retaining ownership of his lands becomes a criminal.  How does this reconcile with the fact that before the founding of the state the Zionist movement purchased traditionally-owned lands from Bedouins in the Negev?!

Besides not recognizing their villages, with the help of planning and building laws the state declared most of the land in the Sayag area as agricultural land on which it is forbidden to build.  And so any Bedouin who attempted to fulfill his basic human right to build a roof over his head became a criminal.  So until today, forced to leave their villages for the townships that have been built for them, they become internal refugees.  Only then do they stop being criminals.

Of course one has to fight criminals.  To this end the police set up the elite Yoav Unit to implement and oversee the evacuation and relocation of these “criminals” whose only crime is that they are Bedouins in the Jewish state.

Although judgment in Sheikh Sayakh’s land ownership claim is still pending in the courts, the Beersheba District Court ruled that Sheikh Sayakh from al-Araqeeb is a criminal who deserves a ten-month incarceration sentence.  His crime: his refusal to accept the egregious decree enabling the embezzlement of his lands and the destruction of his village by the State of Israel.  He upholds his rights to live on his land and to retain his traditional lifestyle.  This makes him a criminal in the State of Israel.


Amos Gvirtz is founder of Israelis and Palestinians for Nonviolence, was chairperson of the Committee against House Demolitions, and a peace and human rights activist. He is a former Israeli representative to the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and wrote the book, Don’t Say We Did Not Know (working on the translation to English).


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 17 Sep 2018.

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