Thousands protest controversial Beduin resettlement plan

Political climate grows more tense as Prawer Bill draws regional, int'l condemnation; police arrest 28; 15 police officers wounded in clashes with demonstrators; Liberman: Situation in the South "catastrophic".

Prawer plan protests November 30, 2013 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Prawer plan protests November 30, 2013 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Beduin Israelis and their supporters throughout the country staged protest demonstrations on Saturday against the controversial Prawer resettlement plan.

Police said by 8 p.m. they had arrested 28 people and that 15 police officers were lightly hurt, including Coastal District Commander Haggai Dotan and the spokeswoman of the Negev subdistrict Navah Tabo and an officer from the Central District who they said was stabbed in the leg by a protester.Protesters hurled stones amid clashes with authorities injuring ten police officers, Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.There were a reported 1,500 demonstrators gathered at Hura Junction in the Negev, some of whom were seen waving PLO flags. Similar demonstrations were being planned for Haifa as well as a number of European and Arab countries to mark the so-called international "Day of Rage" against the legislation.Police were aware of attempts to inflame tensions and bring a new round of violent protests in Israel, Southern District Commander Yoram Halevy said Saturday evening, at the site of the protests in Hura.“This is not the first time we've heard people make warnings about a Third Intifada. We approved a license for a peaceful protest and to my dismay, from the beginning it declined very quickly wen they began throwing rocks and we were forced to close the highway. They also threw Molotov cocktails and garbage cans. There is an attempt to start a war here but we won't allow it to happen.”There were still a few hundred protesters at Hura and in Haifa by the time Halevy made his comments, but police said that they had managed to establish control of both locations.Police deployed reinforcements of hundreds of officers in Hura and Haifa, and used a number of crowd dispersal methods including tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons.Protests also ensued outside the Nablus Gate in East Jerusalem and off Highway 444 in the Triangle.Police Commissioner Yochanan Danino said that police “will allow legal, legitimate protests in keeping with the law but won't allow illegal protests to disrupt the daily life of civilians.”Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the rioting "serious but expected" and the situation in the South "catastrophic.""It is our duty to stop the situation in which there are some citizens to whom the laws of planning and construction apply and there are others who ignore them and used violence to ensure the laws don't apply to them," Liberman wrote on Facebook. According to Liberman, "this isn't a social problem or a housing crisis, but a battle for the land...We are fighting for the national lands of the Jewish people and some are intentionally trying to steal them and forcibly take them over. We cannot close our eyes and escape this reality."The Yisrael Beytenu chairman called for the government to deal with the situation before it becomes impossible by building modern cities for Israeli Arabs, with tall buildings and infrastructure."Building permits are not only for Jews," he explained.Liberman also called for the government to reexamine the Prawer plan and cancel benefits the Beduin were supposed to receive, writing that if there is no agreement on the whole bill, then none of it should be implemented.In response to Liberman's remarks, MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta'al) called the Foreign Minister "an immigrant who lives on land stolen from Arabs."  The Prawer Plan is a five-year economic development initiative that offers what the state believes to be a compromise solution for tens of thousands of Beduin currently scattered in unrecognized villages throughout the south. According to the proposal, up to 70,000 Beduins are likely to be relocated in newly built towns while a number of Beduin villages that are currently unrecognized will be legalized.The bill is currently being deliberated in the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee. It is expected to come before the parliament for its second and third readings. The plan costs NIS 7 billion, NIS 2 billion of which will be earmarked for compensation to those whose land claims were not addressed, Israel Radio reported.Last week, The Jerusalem Post learned that the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem is taking the international campaign against the Israeli government very seriously in light of increasing interest in the issue from international organizations and world governments, particularly in the US and in the European Union, where objections and protests against the plan are garnering widespread publicity.On Friday, the British daily Guardian published a letter signed by 50 high-profile figures from the world of arts and entertainment condemning what they termed as “the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation.”The letter was signed by musician Brian Eno, artist Antony Gormley, actress Julie Christie, and film director Mike Leigh.Earlier this month, Beduin Authority Director-General Yehuda Bachar hosted Foreign Ministry Director-General Rafi Barak, head of the ministry's public affairs directorate Gideo Meir and representatives from the Foreign Ministry's communications branch. During the visit, ministry representatives heard of developments in the sector and of the difficulties and complex treatment in it. "You are our ambassadors to the world and it is important that you see first-hand the great work the Israeli government does in favor of the Bedouin sector and in favor of the Negev in general, and relay to the whole world," said Bachar.Barak said that "I have no doubt that regulating Bedouin settlements through dialogue and cooperation is the right move for the benefit of the country as a whole and the Beduin sector in particular."Yasser Okbi and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.