Israeli police fire tear gas as Bedouin land seizure protests continue
Bedouin residents of the Negev Desert in southern Israel continued protesting for a third day in a row on Thursday, despite Israel's Jewish National Fund (JNF) announcing that they had stopped the current phase of a provocative tree-planting project designed to enroach on Palestinian-owned land in the village of Sa’wa al-Atrash.
The protests, which were called for by the Higher Steering Committee for Arabs (HSCAN) and the Defence Committee for Freedom took place in the afternoon. Israeli police fired tear gas at the protesters.
The halting of the controversial project was initially announced by JNF director Abraham Dufdofani in an interview with Israeli radio.
Atta Abu Madghim, a member of the United Arab List party - which is part of Israel's ruling coalition - said that he was aware that the planting project is on hold for the time being, in an interview with the Knesset’s official channel.
The tree-planting project caused serious disputes within Israel's disparate governing coalition, with right-wing parties supporting it and the United Arab List and centrist parties opposing it.
"The new and unprecedented attacks on the people of Negev indicate that the policies of this unjust institution do not change with different Israeli governments,” The Defence Committee for Freedom said in a statement, referring to the Jewish National Fund.
The Defence Committee for Freedom added thatthe repression faced by Bedouins in the Negev is a “indicator of the Israeli government’s intentions”. They also call for the immediate release of protesters detained in the Negev, which rose to around 80 last night, according to local news reports.
The JNF, a widely-criticised land organisation, said that the tree-planting project will continue at a later phase, after a land settlement is reached.
On Monday, they sent diggers and bulldozers accompanied by Israeli police into the villages of Naqa Ber Al-Saba and Al-Atrash. The JNF seeks to plant a forest on Palestinian land in the Negev.
Nearly half of Israel's 300,000 Palestinian Bedouins live in the Negev. Palestinians as a whole make up over 20% of the Israeli population
Bedouins face regular home demolitions and lack of access to basic services - including electricity, water and sanitation.