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Police, protesters clash across Israel at rallies against Bedouin relocation: 34 arrested, 15 police wounded

Thousands protest in Hura, Jerusalem and Haifa; rallies expected worldwide; Lieberman-"Fight is over jewish Land", Netanyahu-"A loud and violent minority will not prevent a better futures for the majority of Negev residents"!

by Shirley Seidler, Jack Khoury and Yaniv Kubovich        30 November 2013       Haaretz

Protesters set tires on fire on Highway 31, near the southern Israeli village of Hura, Nov. 30, 2013

Hura riot against Bedouin resettlement plan. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the southern village of Hura, the northern city of HaifaJerusalem and Jaffa Saturday evening to protest a government plan to resettle some 30,000 Bedouin residents of the Negev desert. While the protests began peacefully, those in Hura and Haifa grew violent, resulting in a total of 34 arrests and 15 wounded police officers.
The demonstrations were organized as part of an International Day of Rage against the proposed Law for Arranging Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, more commonly known as the Prawer-Begin Plan.
The demonstration began peacefully at around 3 P.M., with protesters carrying signs accusing the government of turning against the people and chanting slogans demanding the elimination of "Fascism." But at around 4:30 P.M. things started riling up. The demonstrators and the large police force – which included the Yasam Special Forces unit of the Israel Police, cavalry and helicopters – began clashing. The demonstrators threw stones, while the police used stun grenades, tear gas and water hoses.

Some protesters claimed that it was the police who started the clashes, only after which demonstrators began throwing stones. However, not everyone agreed to this version of the events. "We did not want the protests to turn violent," one protester said at the site, "but there were a handful of people who began throwing stones. We don't ascribe to the notion that the police are against the Bedouin," he said.

After the clashes erupted, some protesters began setting tires on fire, and Highway 31, at one intersection of which protest took place, was closed to traffic. Police were injured and a number of police vehicles were damaged by stones, and dozens of protesters were detained. Minors were apparently among them.

According to Southern District Police Commander Yoram Halevy, protesters torched trash cans and fields, and a firebomb was hurled toward police officers in Hura. In addition, protesters set an industrial wooden cable spool on fire and rolled it toward the police. Firefighters managed to stop it and put out the blaze.

In Haifa, clashes also broke out between protesters and police. Cops used stun grenades and other means of crowd control, and several demonstrators were arrested there too. The protesters in the northern Israeli city called out various chants: "Prawer will not pass," "Negev land is Arab land," and "We will not leave our homes."

Another, smaller, protest took place in Jerusalem. Dozens of protesters gathered near Damascus Gate to Jerusalem's Old City. One demonstrator was arrested and the rally dispersed.

A total of 34 people were arrested in Haifa, Jerusalem and Hura, while 15 police officers and two fire fighters were wounded.

Dozens of protesters gathered peacefully in Jaffa later in the evening.

Additional demonstrations were expected to take place in Ramallah, Gaza, Berlin, The Hague, Cairo (also London, Brighton and Cardiff, UK :Ed) ) and other cities around the world, after organizers spent weeks drumming up support for a series of simultaneous rallies.

“The state treats us like an object that can be moved from place to place,” Huda Abu Abed, a university law student and activist against the plan had said prior to the commencement of the protest. “They are denying us the basic right to decide our own fate, to decide where we will live, what we will do with our property and our basic right to a home.” She added that the activists would continue to protest non-violently along roads.

At the protest, Abu Abed said the turnout was encouraging, because it evidenced opposition to the bill. "We want to show everyone who has the ability to impact the bill that it is the simple people who will be affected by it," she said.

"The bill differentiates between two regions: one where Bedouin are allowed to settle, and another where they are not," Abu Abed continued. "Highway 40 is going to serve as a separation fence for us."

Abu Abed lamented that there was no dialogue on the matter between the Bedouin community and the government. She further insisted that the Bedouin are being "expelled for security reasons."

Another protester, Haia Noach, of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, expressed hope that the rally would alert Israelis to the consequences the plan may have for the entire region.

"It’s important that the Israeli public understand the Prawer plan's problematic nature, and the harm that it will cause to the Negev," she said, adding that the damage will not only affect Bedouin, but also Jews.

"People here are showing solidarity," she added. "We still haven't given up on the Jewish public, which must understand that the plan threatens everyone."

In addition to expressing opposition to the implementation of the Prawer-Begin plan, demonstrators pointed to the severe steps that have already been taken by the government against residents of the Negev. Last week, protest erupted following - among other things - the arrest of Sheik Siah Abu Mada'am al-Turi from al Arakib who is considered symbol of the struggle for the unrecognized villages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the protests Saturday evening with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino. According to the Prime Minister's Bureau, Netanyahu lauded the police force's efforts and its "steadfast work in the face of the protesters."

Netanyahu said, "We will not put up with such unruliness" and that lawbreakers would be held to account. "There has not been and will not be any tolerance of lawbreakers. The attempt of a loud and violent minority to prevent a better future for a large and wide population is severe. We will continue advancing the bill for a better future for all residents of the Negev," he said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also responded to the protests. In a post on his Facebook page, Lieberman criticized the protesters.

"We are fighting for the national land of the Jewish people, and there are those who are trying to steal [this land] and take it over by force," he said, adding that he initially opposed the Prawer-Begin bill but eventually decided to support it because he was told that the Bedouin leaders had consented to the plan.

"Just like we had feared, the Bedouin are only interested in the 'carrot' – the benefits and the alternative land – while making every effort, even through violence, to oppose the 'stick,'" he continued. "They must leave the land on which they reside illegally."

Lieberman also called on the government to rethink the entire plan and nix the benefits that were promised to the Bedouin.

The a bill for Arranging Bedouin Settlement in the Negev would move thousands of Bedouins into government-recognized villages. Opponents charge the plan would confiscate Bedouin land, but Israel says the moves are necessary to provide basic services that many Bedouins lack.

Officials say the plan calls for the vast majority of Bedouin to live where they are, while allowing them to preserve their traditions in a modern state.

With reporting by The Associated Press.


Thousands expected at protests throughout Israel, world against Bedouin resettlement

Musician Peter Gabriel signs letter in support of protests, calling on UK 'to make its relationship with Israel conditional with human rights."

by Jack Khoury   30 November 2013       Haaretz

A protest against the Bedouin resettlement plan in Tel Aviv on November 25, 2013.

A protest against the Bedouin resettlement plan in Tel Aviv on November 25, 2013. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

Protestors will stage demonstrations throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories on Saturday against the Bedouin resettlement bill known as the Prawer-Begin plan. Young Israeli Arab activists have organized what they call an "international day of rage" together with community organizations to mobilize against the government's plan to relocate some 30,000 Bedouin living in Israel's Negev desert.

The organizers have been campaigning for weeks to drum up support for a series of simultaneous rallies and assemblies that will take place on Saturday at central intersections in the Negev, Jerusalem, Haifa, Ramallah, and Gaza. Thousands are expected to take part in the protests. Local demonstrations will be joined by efforts in Berlin, the Hague, Cairo and other global cities.

"The government is treating us like we are some object that can be moved around," said Huda Abu Abyad, a law school student and activist in the cause. "We are being denied our basic right to determine our own fate – to decide where we will live, and how we will use our property. But we will not give up and we will continue to protest non-violently against [the] Prawer[-Begin Plan]."

Activists are decrying what they say is mounting government repression against residents of the Negev. They cite the arrest last week of Bedouin Sheikh Siakh Abu Mad'am al-Turi, from the unrecognized village of Al-Araqib, who has become a symbol of the struggle against relocating Bedouin to a few concentrated towns.

"The Israeli government apparently has no patience for a democratic process. The government has not bothered to wait for the plan to pass through the Knesset before implementing it on the ground," said 29-year-old Rahat resident and activist Fadi al-Ubra. "Escalations such as the arrest Sheikh Siakh only embolden to stop this plan. We are demonstrating to voice our protest." 

Musician Peter Gabriel signed a letter published Friday against the Prawer-Begin Plan. The open letter published on the Guardian newspaper's website calls to support Saturday's demonstration and criticizes the British government for failing to address the issue. 

"It is time for the U.K. to make its relationship with Israel conditional on respect for human rights and international law and take concrete action to hold Israel to account," the letters reads. 


Britons protest over Israel plan to remove 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins

More than 50 public figures including Antony Gormley and Brian Eno put names to letter opposing expulsion from historic land

by Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem      29 November 2013        The Guardian

Bedouin children walk to school in the Negev desert

Bedouin children walk to school in the Negev desert. Photograph: Karen Robinson

More than 50 public figures in Britain, including high-profile artists, musicians and writers, have put their names to a letter opposing an Israeli plan to forcibly remove up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic desert land – an act condemned by critics as ethnic cleansing.

The letter, published in the Guardian, is part of a day of protest on Saturday in Israel, Palestine and two dozen other countries over an Israeli parliamentary bill that is expected to get final approval by the end of this year.

The eviction and destruction of about 35 "unrecognised" villages in the Negev desert will, the letter says, "mean the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation".

The signatories – who include the artist Antony Gormley, the actor Julie Christie, the film director Mike Leigh and the musician Brian Eno – are demanding that the British government holds Israel to account over itshuman rights record and obligations under international law.

According to Israel, the aims of the Prawer Plan – named after the head of a government commission, Ehud Prawer – are economic development of the Negev desert and the regulation of Palestinian Bedouins living in villages not recognised by the state.

The population of these villages will be removed to designated towns, while plans for new Jewish settlements in the area are enacted.

But Adalah, a human rights and legal centre for Arabs in Israel, says: "The real purpose of the legislation [is] the complete and final severance of the Bedouin's historical ties to their land."

The "unrecognised" villages in the Negev, whose populations range from a few hundred to 2,000, lack basic services such as running water, electricity, landline telephones, roads, high schools and health clinics. Some consist of a few shacks and animal pens made from corrugated iron; others include concrete houses and mosques built without necessary but unobtainable permission.

The Bedouin comprise about 30% of the Negev's population but their villages take up only 2.5% of the land. Before the state of Israel was created in 1948 they roamed widely across the desert; now, two-thirds of the region has been designated as military training grounds and firing ranges.

Under the Prawer Plan, between 40,000 and 70,000 of the remaining Bedouin – who became Israeli citizens in the 1950s – will be moved into seven over-crowded, impoverished, crime-ridden state-planned towns. The Israeli government says it is an opportunity for Bedouins to live in modern homes, take regular jobs and send their children to mainstream schools. They will be offered compensation to move, it adds.

Miranda Pennell, a film-maker and one of the letter's signatories, said: "Citizenship counts for nothing in Israel if you happen to be an Arab. Tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin are being forcibly displaced from their homes and lands. At the same time, there are Israeli government advertisements on the web that promise you funding as a British immigrant to come and live in 'vibrant communities' in the Negev – if you are Jewish. This is ethnic cleansing."

The actor David Calder said: "The Israeli state not only practices apartheid against the Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories, but it seems they have no hesitation in practicing apartheid on their own citizens – in this instance, the Bedouins. When is the west going to find these actions intolerable?"


Who's really taking over the Negev?

The Bedouin are often portrayed as foreign invaders bent on seizing control of Israel's Negev Desert, but Zionist history suggests a different narrative.

by Yariv Mohar abd Moriel Rothman        6 February 2013

The Bedouin welcomed the Jews of the First Aliyah to the Negev.

The Bedouin welcomed the Jews of the First Aliyah to the Negev. Photo by Michal Fattal
A few days ago, the Israeli government approved an outline for arranging the settlement of the Bedouin, formulated by Minister Benny Begin after a hearing he held. On the surface, it appears there is a gap between Begin’s positive, principled statements in favor of the Bedouin’s rights and his recommendations, which could yet oust many Bedouin from the places they are living.

A few days ago, the Israeli government approved an outline for arranging the settlement of the Bedouin, formulated by Minister Benny Begin after a hearing he held. On the surface, it appears there is a gap between Begin’s positive, principled statements in favor of the Bedouin’s rights and his recommendations, which could yet oust many Bedouin from the places they are living.

The government's approach could be called the “generosity of lords.” Instead of recognizing the Bedouin villages based on the principles of fairness and equality, it expresses willingness to give the "irrational Bedouin" something they seemingly do not deserve, a gesture of goodwill.

Ignored in the background is the fact that the Bedouin have already relinquished most of their lands and are demanding only a tiny area. They definitely do not deserve to be accused of "taking control of the Negev."

The myth of the takeover of the Negev Desert is being spread by an orchestrated campaign of supposed facts and biased research suggesting that the Bedouin are invaders – nomads who not very long ago came from Saudi Arabia or the Sinai Peninsula and are not native inhabitants of the Negev. The people behind this myth claim they are speaking in the name of Zionism and against its opponents. On this basis, it is easy to understand how the government's new proposal could be seen as generous, rather than insulting.

But to see how ungrateful and ungracious Israel's attitude toward the Bedouin is today, you need only peruse the writing of Zalman David Levontin, a Zionist activist and leader from the beginning of the First Aliyah, or Jewish immigration to Palestine around the turn of the 19th century. In his book “To the Land of Our Fathers,” Levontin writes about the encounters between the first Zionist immigrants and the Negev Bedouin. It turns out that even before Theodor Herzl wrote “The Jewish State," the Bedouin had invited the Zionist immigrants to settle alongside them. Today, though, the descendants of these Jews are brazenly calling the Bedouin "invaders," and doing so in the name of Zionism.

Levontine's writing focuses on the year 1882. The Bedouin are depicted as natives of the land. From his descriptions, it is clear they are permanent residents or semi-nomads, certainly not people without any connection to the place who have come from Saudi Arabia just to benefit from the fruits of Zionism.

Levontin was not biased in favor of the Bedouin. He critically describes their aggressive attitude toward immigrants in other places in the country. But of the Negev Bedouin he writes that relations between them and the Jews are good and that they invite the Jews to settle near them and buy lands from them cheaply.

In “To the Land of Our Fathers,” Levontin also writes about a Zionist delegation looking for suitable lands on which to establish a "moshava," or "farming community," to be called Rishon Lezion and about how the Negev Bedouin helped with the search. The delegation reported that it had formed a positive impression of the Bedouin and recommended the Negev as the most suitable place for Jewish settlement in the land of Israel – in neighborly proximity to the Bedouin and not in their stead or at the expense of their rights.

The members of the delegation also reported that the Bedouin owned available lands that they were prepared to sell at a low price. It is quite clear that the reference is to extensive tracts, since this delegation was looking for a solution to the settlement of very large numbers of Jews. Mass settlement of this sort did not ultimately prove possible, but many of the lands of Kibbutz Lahav, for example, were purchased from the Al-Turi family from Al-Araqib, a purchase that proves recognition of their ownership.

So where, then, are the invaders? And where is the gratitude towards the people who helped the first pioneers?

And an issue that is more a matter of principle: Who in fact can be considered to be “Taking control” of the Negev? The Bedouin, who the people of the First Aliyah met for the first time when they came from Eastern Europe to their new land, or the Bedouin, who are today claiming ownership of just 5 percent of the lands of the Negev, even though they constitute more than 30 percent of its population? If we look at history, could it perhaps be the Jews who are “taking over”?

For the sake of dispelling any doubt, let it be said that we are not thinking in those terms and we do not believe that history must be a major factor in justifying or negating collective or civil rights. Citizenship and living in a place are sufficiently worthy basises for rights and an egalitarian allotment of lands.

But the government ministers, organizations and citizens using history to undermine the collective right of the Bedouin, and doing so in the name of Zionism, should at least take the trouble to familiarize themselves with the writings of the earliest Zionists. In ignoring history, they are acting disgracefully not only toward the Bedouin but also towards the people in whose name they are speaking.

The writers are activists in the organization Rabbis for Human Rights, a member of the Recognition Forum.