Bedouin demonstration against Prawer plan turns violent
Thousands demonstrate against the plan to regulate Bedouin settlement • Several police officers wounded, dozens of demonstrators arrested • Lieberman: "This is a fight over national lands against those trying to steal and forcibly take over the land."
Gadi Golan, Daniel Siryoti, Shlomo Cesana, Gideon Allon, Itsik Saban, Nitzi Yaakov, Efrat Forsher and Shlomi Diaz
Demonstrators in Jaffa tried to block an adjacent road
Photo credit: Yeshoshua Yosef
In Jerusalem, police dispersed violent demonstrations
Photo credit: Jonathan Zindel
About 30 Bedouin citizens arrested, ten police lightly wounded, blocked roads, kilometers-long traffic jams, burning tires and Molotov cocktails thrown at police. This was the fallout from demonstrations across the country on Saturday by several thousand Bedouin protesting the Prawer plan, which is in the final stages before passing a second and third reading in the Knesset. The law would regulate and settle land claims by Bedouin in the Negev.
"We will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the lawbreakers and we will not suffer such disturbances," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday. "We don't have and we will not have tolerance for the lawbreakers. The attempts of a small and vocal minority to prevent a better future for a large and broad population is grave. We will continue to advance the law for a better future for all residents of the Negev."
"We are talking about neither a societal problem nor a housing shortage," said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beytenu) on Saturday night. "This is a fight over land. We are fighting over the Jewish people's national land and there are those who intentionally try to steal and take it over by force. We cannot close our eyes and run away from this reality."
Doron Almog, who heads the directorate for regulating Bedouin settlement in the Negev told Israel Radio on Saturday that the demonstrations have been organized by a small group of interested parties acting out of political motives. He said that the organizers of the demonstrations do not represent most residents and that 85 percent of residents in the scattered Bedouin areas are interested in moving into regulated permanent settlements.
Meanwhile, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) called on the government to announce that it would freeze the plan and start dialogue with representatives of the Arab Bedouin population. "There are genuine alternative plans on the table and we have to advance them instead of ramrodding legislation that destroys villages, expels people from their homes and offers no solution to the real problems of inequality of the Bedouin population in the Negev," Khenin said.
"Recognition and not uprooting"
Former MK Talab El-Sana (Arab Democratic Party), a prominent Bedouin leader in the Negev, said that "the demonstrations are a warning to a government that continues with a policy of uprooting and ethnic cleansing. I want to warn against a third intifada if the government does not pull itself together and conduct dialogue rather than using the threat of force, solving the problem on the basis of recognition and not uprooting."
In an interview to reporters while on a state visit to Mexico, Peres said that Israel must continue with the Prawer plan.
"Millions of shekels have been invested in this plan and I am sure the intentions were good. To retreat is a retreat for the Bedouin as well."
The demonstration next to the Hura Junction in the eastern Negev took a violent turn and included rock throwing at police.
During the demonstration many young people began waving Palestinian flags and throwing rocks at dozens of riot and mounted police who responded with tear gas.
In downtown Haifa, about 2,500 Bedouin demonstrated on Saturday. They waved Palestinian flags, burst into the streets and tried to block roads. In Haifa, the demonstration was led by youngsters from the Abnaa el-Balad movement -- composed of students and young radicals. The demonstrators threw rocks and clashed with hundreds of police. Fifteen were arrested, at least 10 were lightly wounded.
Coastal District Police Commander Maj. Gen. Hagai Dotan and three policemen were lightly injured by stones.
Mounted police at Damascus Gate
In Jaffa, about 100 people demonstrated. The demonstrators gathered in Clock Tower Square waving Palestinian flags and trying to block a nearby street. Police clashed with them and prevented the street from being blocked.
Dozens of Jews and Arabs also took part in demonstrations in Jerusalem near Damascus Gate. The police dispersed the demonstrators using mounted police and arrested one of them. Hundreds of residents of Tayibe, Tira and Qalansawe demonstrated on Road 444 next to the city of Tayibe.
"I totally oppose the severe violence that the demonstrators are using against police," Public Security Minister, MK Yitzhak Aharonovitch, said on Saturday. "The Israel Police prepare so that legal and legitimate demonstrations can occur smoothly but when such harsh violence is directed at police it is clear that the rioters' purpose is not a legitimate and legal demonstration. The Israel Police will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law all of those violent rioters who attacked and wounded police."
The Prawer plan
In January 2013, the government approved the draft of a plan that would regulate Bedouin settlement in the Negev. It was a reformulation of a plan by Ehud Prawer by then-Minister Benny Begin. The proposed law is now in its final stages before a second and third reading.
The plan was meant to solve the problem of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and to end the Bedouin's claims of land ownership vis-à-vis the state in exchange for compensation.
In effect, the plan legalizes many lands that the Bedouin took without permission and transfers 12,000 disputed land claims to arbitration so they can receive compensation. The plan determines that following this settlement, any additional takeover of land will receive a severe punishment. If within five years the ownership claimant does not agree to the proffered compromise, his claim will no longer have validity and the land will be registered as belonging to the government.
Under the present circumstances, about 70,000 Bedouin reside in unrecognized settlements on land that they claim belongs to them. The meaning of an "unrecognized settlement" means the state cannot provide any services there, from infrastructure to education. In addition, there is a problem with the recognized settlements which have spread to additional land in an illegal way. The Bedouin claim that their legal claims to the land go back many years and that they were never given official recognition in Israel law.
The Bedouin oppose the Prawer plan because they say it does not recognize all the unofficial settlements and will lead to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Bedouin from their homes. In addition, they oppose the partial compensation agreement and claim that in comparison to other compensation agreements in Israel, it is discriminatory.