More than 1,000 people gathered Thursday for two separate demonstrations to protest the government’s plan to regulate Bedouin settlement in the Negev. Police arrested at least 20 of the demonstrators.
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The protests, which took place at two different locations in Israel's north and south, are part of the expression of ongoing objections to legislation of a contentious bill that calls for the relocation of as many as 40,000 Bedouin from areas not recognized by the government as residential.
“It’s exciting to see the awakening of the young people of the Negev and elsewhere to our struggle over our lands and our homes,” Amir Abu-Quidar, a Bedouin activist from the unrecognized village of Al-Zarnug. “The government does not recognize the Bedouin villages and withholds essential services so that we will lose hope and leave. We are not invaders or nomads. We will continue to live and work our lands, which we have owned since before the establishment of the state,” Abu-Quidar said.
One of the demonstrations, which took place at the Lahavim Junction in the northern Negev, was attended by about 1,000 people, most of them Bedouin from the area. Numerous police personnel were on hand and there was no violence or disturbance of the peace. However, protest organizers reported that at the end of the demonstration a few of the protesters were detained by police.
Twenty arrests were made at the second focus of protests at Wadi Ara, on Route 65 northeast of Hadera. According to the police, attempts were made to block traffic; however, the protesters said a few people were arrested on their way to the protest.
Protests against the relocation plan, recommended by the Prawer Committee in 2011, are being organized by Bedouin grass-roots groups and human rights organizations. The groups say that the government efforts to promote a law that would resolve land-ownership issues would seriously impair their rights. They note that the arrangement being offered does not compensate the Bedouin fully for land that has been expropriated from them in the past. It would also allow for the demolition of homes by administrative order, which would impair their right to petition against the demolition, they say.
According to human rights groups, the plan would mean the eviction of some 40,000 Bedouin from their homes. They are calling for the recognition of the Bedouin’s rights to the land and their right to live in existing villages. However, officials who were involved in formulating the Prawer plan say that it represents a compromise with the Bedouin and is a fair resolution of property demands. It offers the possibility for the first time for Bedouin to live in recognized villages with electrical and water infrastructure, its proponents say.