Israeli Arabs Protest Against Bedouin Relocation Plan; at Least 14 Arrested

Protests organized by Arab citizens of the Negev to protest government's Prawer Plan to relocate nearly 30,000 Bedouin take place across Israel.

Fourteen protesters were arrested yesterday morning and two police officers were lightly injured at a protest in Be’er Sheva, called over the Knesset’s preliminary approval last month of the Prawer Plan for regulating Bedouin settlement in the Negev.

The large procession in Be’er Sheva that began at 10 A.M. under the slogan, “The Prawer Plan will not pass,” was the main event planned as part of a general strike declared by the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, which led to the closing of commercial establishments and local authority offices in Arab communities yesterday. Small demonstrations were also expected to take place at several key intersections in the Galilee and Wadi Ara regions and several major cities.

According to police, the protesters in Be’er Sheva were arrested after blocking a main road in the city and causing traffic tie-ups.

Police demanded that the protesters get off the road and onto the sidewalk and disperse, since the protest was illegal. As a result, the police claims, the protesters started using violence against them and two policemen were injured.

A major challenge for the protest organizers was the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan and its effect on the Arab public’s response to a call for a general strike.

Arab political parties had sought over the weekend to enlist Arab public opinion on behalf of the commercial strike. Schools and other educational institutions are already closed for vacation.

Arab parties have labeled the proposed law the most dangerous one to be proposed since Israel’s founding, saying it would lead to the expulsion of tens of thousands of people and the clearing out of entire villages to allow the state to take over the land.

Another challenge facing strike organizers was the deep divergence of opinions among the Arab parties and political movements regarding regional issues, such as the crisis in Egypt and civil war in Syria. These rifts in Israeli Arab opinion have become prominent in the past year, making it difficult to mobilize a unified Israeli Arab response to the Prawer Plan.

Israeli officials responsible for implementing the Prawer Plan would not respond on the record to the Arab call for a general strike. However an official told Haaretz: “The strike decision today was accepted close to two weeks ago by the usual suspects, who have an interest in preserving the Bedouin’s bleak condition.

“These bodies do not represent the vast majority of the Bedouin,” the official said, adding that the plan would continue to move forward and not be influenced by “background noise” like the strike.