2,000 Bedouin uproot disputed trees as Negev protests intensify

The protests continued on Thursday as Ra'am continues threatening the future of Naftali Bennett's government.

Israel Police forces clash with Bedouin rioters in Negev over KKL-JNF plantings, on January 13, 2022.

2,000 Bedouin citizens continued protesting the planting done by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund earlier in the week, which they argued was unfairly encroaching on the lands of the Al-Atrash clan that Israel says is state land.

At least 13 protesters were arrested on Thursday and at least three were lightly injured, said the police.

The protesters blocked Highway 31 near Bedouin encampments and near Highway 70. They threw stones at police, which police answered with anti-riot rubber bullets and shock grenades, and used a water cannon.

A police helicopter and drones also participated in the efforts to stop the violence.

“These people came to protest, not to fight,” former Ra’am (United Arab List) MK Taleb Abu-Sanaa told reporters at the scene. MKs from the Joint List joined in the protests.

A regular commuter bus got stuck in the middle of the rioting and had to be evacuated with the help of the police. 

 Israeli security forces detain a Bedouin man during a protest against forestation at the Negev desert village of Sawe al-Atrash, southern Israel January 12, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD) Israeli security forces detain a Bedouin man during a protest against forestation at the Negev desert village of Sawe al-Atrash, southern Israel January 12, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

Late Thursday night, tires were still being burned between Beersheba and Dimona.

Despite agreements made on Wednesday between representatives of the government and local Bedouin leaders, dozens of saplings were uprooted on Thursday, and KKL-JNF filed a police complaint.

While police protected the disputed saplings for most of Wednesday night, the moment they left the trees were uprooted by the Al-Atrash clan.

The plantings in the Al-Atrash area were completed on Wednesday according to plan and did not continue on Thursday. However, planting continued elsewhere throughout the Negev.

Negotiations took place on Thursday between Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen, who heads the National Bedouin Authority, and the Israel Lands Authority, which wants the planting to continue unfettered. The goal is to reach an agreement before Monday, when the Knesset plenum returns and plantings will be held throughout the country for the Tu Bishvat holiday.

Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu Sahiben, a leading figure in Ra’am, told the Arabic Nas Radio on Thursday that there would no longer be a government if the planting does not stop completely.