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High Court Orders Gov’t, Army to Explain Ban on Bedouin Return

The Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government and the Army yesterday to explain why they would not permit nine Bedouin tribes to return to their homes south of the Gaza Strip from which they were removed in an action which has caused widespread criticism in Israel.

The tribes contended that Israel defense forces last January gave them only a few days notice before ordering them to pack their belongings and abandon their homes and watering holes in Rafia, a community at the southern end of the Strip. The court order gave the government and the Army two weeks to prepare their replies.

The Army removed 6000 Bedouins from the area and fenced in their land on grounds that Arab infiltrators had been using the area as a route in and out of the Strip. Several months later, 120 of the Bedouin families received 200,000 pounds in compensation. A number of kibbutz settlements in the Negev, all affiliated with the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair movement, denounced the action and charged it was in preparation for efforts to settle Jews in the area. Apparent confirmation for that charge emerged in reports today and yesterday that bulldozers were working on some 400 acres in the fenced-off area in what appeared to be preparation for farm settlement, sources here reported.

In response to the protests, the Army began an inquiry and a three-man committee decided on March 27 on reprimands for three senior Army officers for transferring the Bedouins without authorization, for destroying 124 buildings and for fencing in the area. However, Army officials insisted the Army bad a legal right to oust the Bedouins and that it would not permit them to return. The officers, whose names were not released, were reprimanded for acting without previous orders, according to Army officials. The ousted Bedouins have insisted they will not accept compensation and they contend that the Army action contravened the Geneva Convention in expelling them from their homes and the area.

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