Israeli Soldiers, Police, Assault Nonviolent Protesters, Defending Their Communities In Negev Desert

12:00 Jan 13 2022 Unrecognized Bedouin Villages in the Negev

Scene. Source: Palestine TV Published by IMEMC News

Israeli Police at the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sa'wa, on Wednesday. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz Published by Haaretz

by IMEMC News
Jan 13, 2021

For the fourth day in a row, Palestinian residents of the Negev Desert in the southern part of the country continued their protests of the Israeli government’s attempts to displace them and take over their lands.

A large police force attacked the nonviolent protesters who gathered at the intersection between al-Atrash and Saawa Bedouin communities to protest the takeover.

The police fired rubber-coated metal bullets, tear gas bombs, and wastewater mixed with chemicals, causing several injuries and suffocation cases.

The Palestinian Bedouin community, on Tuesday, announced a general strike in protest of the ongoing demolition operations in unrecognized Palestinian villages in the Negev desert, the Middle East Eye reported.

It added that Israeli police stormed, on Tuesday, al-Atrash and al-Sawa villages, and tore down solidarity tents set up for demonstrators in rejection of the continuous Israeli violations, adding that police fired tear gas and concussion grenades at protestors and detained 20 people, including women.

Police sealed off the villages while Israeli bulldozers razed agricultural land for the second day in a row.

The Higher Follow Up Committee of Arabs in the Negev have announced a general strike in response to the demolitions, and a demonstration is planned for Thursday at 3 pm local time.

Nearly 100,000 Palestinians hold Israeli citizenship and reside in 35 ‘unrecognized’ villages, which are denied any support from the Israeli government for infrastructure, roads, or schools.

On Monday, Israeli soldiers invaded the Bedouin village of Al-Atrash accompanying bulldozers that began to raze large areas of land.

Soldiers assaulted and detained a Palestinian journalist, identified as Yasser Aqabi, who was attempting to provide coverage of the incident, in addition to assaulting several residents who protested the destruction, before detaining one unidentified resident.

Editorial | Instead of Planting Trees, the Jewish National Fund's Negev Project Starts a Fire

With permission and authority the Jewish National Fund, the executive arm of the Israel Land Authority, decided to plant forests in the Negev and turn them into tinder for one of the worst confrontations between the Bedouin and the security forces.

Only the naive can believe that planting the trees near the Bedouin villages Mulada and Sawa area was meant to celebrate Tu Bishvat (Jewish Arbor Day) or to improve the ecological fabric of the Negev. In reality this is clearly a political initiative that boasts the title “Protection of State Land” – in other words, a defense against a Bedouin land grab and a display of “governance” toward them.

This isn’t the first time the JNF has used forestation as a political tool. Two years ago as well, tree planting sparked protest from Bedouin and opposition from environmental organizations. The government, then headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, had the sense to stop the planting and agree to arbitration with the Bedouin. This year the Israel Land Authority tried again to deploy its brutal weapons, and was greeted by an outbreak of violent riots that included setting cars on fire, assaulting police officers and journalists, throwing stones and blocking roads and, of course – a political confrontation.

On one side were the Arab MKs, led by Mansour Abbas and Walid Taha, who threatened to boycott Knesset votes unless the planting stopped, and followed through; on the other, right-wing opposition lawmakers who decried what they called the government’s weakness and surrender to the Arab MKs’ “terror threats,” and then exploited the disagreement to advance legislation. To a large extent each side played its role, since in any event the planting had been scheduled to take just three days, and ended Wednesday.

While both sides are trying to make political hay from the forest, the practical approach of Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid is worthy of mention. He said “Israel has to plant trees on state land, but we don’t have to harm the livelihood of the area’s residents. ... We can stop even now for a reorganization. The government of change is committed to solving the problems of the Bedouin and reaching an arrangement in the Negev.”

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Clashes erupt in Israel's south over forestation plan; Haaretz reporter's car set ablaze

The violent response of the Bedouin is reprehensible, and must be met by legal enforcement measures, but it does not exempt the government of responsibility for correcting the failures, neglect and disregard for their needs. The concentration of thousands of homes in organized, planned communities; infrastructure development; significant improvement in the level of services and the reduction of unemployment, together with preserving their traditional way of life, are only some of the state’s duties towards its most disadvantaged population. The afforestation of the Negev will not solve even one of these problems. It will only intensify the alienation between the state and its Bedouin citizens.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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