Thousands of Bedouin demonstrators and their supporters clashed with the police in various locations across Israel on Saturday as they protested a government plan to regulate Bedouin settlement in the Negev desert.
In scenes reminiscent of the Palestinian uprisings in the West Bank, protesters hurled stones at police forces, burned tires and blocked a main road for hours near the Bedouin town of Hura in the Negev. The police used water cannons, tear gas and sound grenades to disperse the demonstrators. Smaller protests were held in the northern cities of Haifa and Taibeh and in East Jerusalem.
Altogether, about 15 police officers were injured by stones and at least 28 protesters were arrested, said Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman. One officer was stabbed in the leg in Haifa, Mr. Rosenfeld said.
Activists had called for the protests as part of an international “day of rage” against the plan, known as the Prawer-Begin plan. A bill that would turn the plan into law is expected to be brought to a final vote during the winter session of Parliament.
Intended to resolve a land dispute between the Bedouins and the authorities that has been simmering since the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, the plan proposes a mechanism to deal with land ownership claims and compensation. It also calls for the evacuation of 35 Bedouin villages that are not recognised by the state and the resettlement of the residents in existing or new towns.
Human rights organisations opposing the plan say it will involve the forcible relocation of 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouins, dispossessing them of their historic land rights. They say that the plan was created without sufficient input by the Bedouins, and that it discriminates between the Bedouin and Jewish residents of the Negev.
A third to half of the 170,000 or so Negev Bedouins live in unrecognised villages that are not connected to the state water or electricity networks.
The Headquarters for Economic and Community Development of the Negev Bedouin issued a statement on Saturday saying,
“The Bedouin of the Negev, being equal citizens, deserve adequate housing, public services and a better future for their children.”
— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013