Negev tree planting: After third day, violent encounters, tractors to pull out

Ra'am has threatened the coalition over the issue • Ze'ev Elkin called Mansour Abbas's use of political pressure "legitimate," but said they don't need Ra'am's permission.

KKL-JNF plants trees near the Gaza border (photo credit: Courtesy)
KKL-JNF plants trees near the Gaza border
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Nine people have been arrested for throwing stones at security forces guarding Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) tree planting operations in the Negev after it was resumed despite backlash from Arab MKs.

The resumption of planting is taking place under heavy security following protests the night before, according to Makor Rishon.

Videos of clashes were shared on social media.

"We will continue with the planting as needed; today is the last day of this round," Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Elkin (New Hope) told KAN. Regarding the backlash from coalition partner Ra'am, Elkin said they would deal with this "political problem."

"I understand the pressures of the Bedouin sector on Ra'am," he told KAN, though he said that the land was state-owned and not privately owned by Arabs despite such claims. "I'm in favor of solving problems through dialogue," he said, adding that Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas's use of political pressure now "is legitimate."

MK Mansour Abbas during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)MK Mansour Abbas during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

But Ra'am's permission was not needed to resume planting, Walla reported him as saying.

Elkin's claims that this was the last day of planting were contradicted by JNF chairman Avraham Duvdevani. 

"We have organized to work for many months. If they don't stop us, we will keep going," he said, according to KAN.

Duvedani also fired back at Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej's calls to disband the organization.

"As long as the State of Israel exists, they will need JNF, which does things that the state does not do for one reason or another," Duvdevani said, according to KAN.

Some have feared that the Negev planting could throw the coalition into jeopardy, and Abbas has warned that his party's four votes cannot be counted on anymore. 

Several politicians have weighed in on the resumption of planting.

"We will go all the way," Ra'am MK Iman Khatib-Yasin told KAN. "We came to this partnership to serve the Arab citizens and we are constantly examining what is in their best interests."

She said that "Elkin can say what he wants, but he needs to look at the near future."

"What is happening in the Negev cannot happen, where they act like a military dictatorship and determine reality as if no one is there," the Ra'am MK told KAN. "The message is clear to everyone: Do you want a reality that removes the possibility of coexistence, or give an opinion to a coalition where Arab citizens are equal?"

Another Ra'am MK, Waleed Taha, threatened to resign from the coalition due to the planting. 

"This policy should be stopped and replaced with a just one," Ynet reported him as saying. 

The simplest solution to the immediate crisis was to quit the coalition, he said, but adding that they must exhaust all existing methods and tools to stop it from happening in the future.

"Today, the order of the hour is to reach the Negev and take part in the important mitzvah of struggling for the Land of Israel," Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben-Gvir said in a statement on his way to the planting. 

Ben-Gvir said he had spoken with a religious-Zionist authority, Rabbi Dov Lior, the former chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, "who ruled it was permissible to plant trees for the struggle for the Land of Israel, and called on all Knesset members to come to the Negev to make the desert bloom."

"There are many areas in the country where, when you do not cultivate the land, you lose it," Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (New Hope) said on Facebook.

"On the eve of Tu Bishvat, agriculture should be recognized and planting is the solution everywhere, and so it will be done this year as well," he said, adding that members of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party would also be invited to plant.

"Preservation of state lands is a job for the government; stopping violence is also an important job for the government," Labor MK Gilad Kariv tweeted. "But another important job is to find smart solutions to problems through dialogue and cooperation. 

"When it comes to the Negev, the previous government did not do any of these jobs," he said. "The current government will do them with common sense."

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.