Fifteen Beduin protesters were arrested on Wednesday morning when their demonstration against a tree-planting operation in the Goral Forest outside Beersheba turned into a violent confrontation with KKL-JNF workers and the police.
Magen David Adom crews treated two protesters who suffered injuries from tear gas used against them by police and a police officer who was injured during the demonstration. The three were taken to Beersheba's Soroka Hospital with minor injuries.
Dozens of Beduin from the nearby area came to the forest, which is adjacent to the Goral Junction, to protest work done by KKL-JNF foresters in preparation for a reforestation project on behalf of the Israel Lands Administration. The Beduin claim that the land in question belongs to them and attempted to stop the work.
Before long, rioters began throwing rocks at the police and the workmen in the field and blocked the tractors in their paths. The police reacted with force and dispersed the violent protesters with tear gas.
According to Ami Uliel, KKL-JNF's southern region director, police were on the scene in coordination with the KKL-JNF before the protest began. He said that the demonstration was anticipated.
"Over the last few months there have been several attempts to stop the fieldwork from taking place. People have filed petitions to the courts, including the Supreme Court, to try and prove that the land belongs to the Beduin. The courts rejected all the claims and decided that the land belongs to the state," said Uliel.
"When the ILA told us that everything was settled and we could begin work, we proceeded as requested. We tried to be as sensitive as possible to the feelings of the Beduin population and only began work after Ramadan was over."
Uliel said it was important to state that there was no conflict between the KKL-JNF and the Beduin population. "I was in the field yesterday and the day before and saw Beduin families enjoying the forest for a holiday celebration. The forest serves people of all backgrounds and religions," he said.
One of the protesters told a Ynet reporter that he felt there was animosity between the Beduin and Jews. "We tried to reach out and find a solution whereby the land would be split between us. This is land that belonged to us before the state was formedâ€¦ The police know we are not looking for conflict but want to turn us into criminals."
"Our job is to maintain law and order. I'm sorry to see that there are those that take the law into their own hands despite the fact that the issue was settled in the courts," said Lt.-Cmdr. Avshalom Peled.