Hundreds of Rahat residents demonstrated on Sunday ahead of a planned rightist march in their town, headed by far-right activists MK Michael Ben-Ari, Itamar Ben Gvir and Baruch Marzel, in protest of illegal construction in the southern Israeli town.
Rahat police deployed forces around the city and blocked the main routes leading to the Negev town, fearing the conflict between marchers and residents would escalate to physical violence.
The rightists marched to protest what they term "illegal outposts building" in the Bedouin city, while Jewish outposts in the West Bank are being evacuated.
The march began under heavy security as hundreds of police officers were deployed in the area and helicopters hovered overhead. The angry residents climbed atop rooftops and waved black flags. The Bedouin protesters hurled rocks and shoes at the police forces. One police officer was lightly wounded when a rock hit his helmet.
Ahead of the march, Hadash MK Afu Aghbaria (Hadash), who was in Rahat alongside Arab community leaders, said that the residents of the town were determined to block the rightist demonstrators with their bodies. "We won't allow Marzel and his gang, the greenhouse of terror that raised Baruch Goldstein and Eden Natan-Zada, to defile the sacred and pure soil of Rahat," he warned.
"In the eyes of the law, Rahat is no different than Migron," said Marzel in reference to the unauthorized West Bank outpost settlement slated for evacuation. "If [Supreme Court President] Dorit Beinisch goes out in her pajamas at night to issue demolition orders against every shack that is built, she must also address the issue of thousands of illegal structures built by Bedouin in the Negev."
Ben-Ari (National Union) said that "the Islamic movement has taken over Rahat and we are planning to protest against that. Just like it took over in Umm al-Fahm, it is taking over here too."
Ben Ari also said that when Bedouin Israel Defense Forces soldiers are killed in battle, sometimes the IDF is reluctant to release their names for fear that their neighbors will find out they served in the army.
Magen David Adom emergency medical service raised its alert level, fearing casualties. Twenty people were hurt during a similar clash between Israeli Arabs and far-rightists in Umm al-Fahm in March, but in Rahat, only one police officer was hurt.
On Saturday, Rahat residents warned that the rightist march would spark violent clashes. "We won't allow a racist rabble that is trying to incite against the Arab public to enter Rahat," vowed Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al). "We won't welcome them with flowers, but with old sandals."
He spoke as hundreds of residents demonstrated against the planned tour and denounced police for approving it. They branded the move as a provocation and threatened to block it with their bodies.
Al-Sana added: "The feeling is that this public is suffering an all-out attack that is threatening its identity. There is an attempt to Judaicize the region by the altering of identity and falsifying of history."
"We're worried by the atmosphere of incitement and the witch-hunt of the Arab public in Israel," he went on to say.
The chairman of the Israeli Arab party Balad, MK Jamal Zahalka, said Rahat residents would welcome the rightists in the same manner as Umm al-Fahm residents had greeted them in March.
"The time has come for it to be understood in Israel that racism is a violation of the law and a criminal act," said Zahalka.
"Marzel and his gang must not be allowed to gain a foothold in Rahat," said Hadash's Aghbaria.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now