Israel Says May Uproot Trees Planted to Deny Negev Lands to Bedouin

Trees planted in the southern desert could be uprooted if land is allocated to formalize Bedouin settlement unrecognized by the state

Zafrir Rinat
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An unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, December 2019.
An unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, December 2019.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Zafrir Rinat

The Israel Land Authority will agree to uproot trees that were systematically planted in order to deter Bedouin residents from areas in the Negev desert, if it is decided to allocate the lands to formalize unrecognized Bedouin settlements.

The land referred to stretches over tens of thousands of dunams that the authority has already planted or intends to plant in the near future.

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Director of the Israel Land Authority, Adiel Shomron, expressed his stance Monday in a letter to the director of the Economy and Industry Ministry, David Leffler. Currently, the ministry is responsible for arranging Bedouin settlements. 

Following a meeting between the two regarding the tree planting Shomron wrote, “I am hereby notifying you that the planting of trees for the purpose of land conservation (afforestation) will not present an obstacle for the arrangement of a settlement according to an approved plan by the proper authority, in accordance with the law. If an arrangement plan is approved, we will not object to uprooting the saplings in areas planned for development and sale, as we have already done on several occasions.”

Israel has been pushing through a plan to plant trees across a significant swath of the Negev in a bid to deny Bedouin residents from accessing the lands.

The plan is described as “agricultural planting” but local activists and human rights organizations say it is being implemented to weaken the Bedouin’s connection to the lands, a significant amount of which are the subject of ownership lawsuits and some of which are used for agriculture. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) states that this move also has destructive repercussions for the desert environment and is being taken while sidestepping planning procedures.

The planting, which the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael) is in charge of, is planned across 40,000 dunams (10,000 acres) and focuses on areas around the Bedouin communities of Segev Shalom and Abu Talul.

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