Police arrested on Tuesday 30 people who they say were part of a protest last week against the Jewish National Fund's forestation work on land used by Bedouin residents of the Negev for agriculture. Dozens more were arrested in previous days.
According to police, the suspects were involved in "rioting and throwing stones." Bedouin activists said the police’s cyber unit identified them by looking at TikTok videos from the demonstrations, which began last Monday.
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Clashes broke out between police and Bedouin protesters, who accuse the JNF of land-grab. The JNF completed the first phase of its tree-planting project on Wednesday as planned, and the government has agreed to fast-track negotiations on any future work by the organization in the Negev.
Police say that overall, 96 Bedouin have been arrested since the demonstrations began. A prominent advocacy group puts that number at 155, with about a third of them minors.
Marwan Abu Freih, who heads the Negev office of Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said police have repeatedly sought to extend detentions for “minors and adults alike,” sometimes two or three times, and the courts have granted these extensions, even though police “haven’t conducted any investigative activities.” Therefore, he argued, “These are illegal arrests.”
The police deny their requests, some approved by the courts but some not, were unlawful.
According to the police's figures, 38 suspects are still under arrest. Prosecutors said Tuesday they are preparing indictments against 13 other detainees.
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Bedouin leader Talab el-Sana, a former Knesset member who has been providing legal assistance to the activists, told some of them in a WhatsApp group: "Attending a demonstration is every citizen’s basic right, and police have a duty to protect demonstrators and their right to demonstrate." El-Sana stressed that police are required to provide evidence for their claims.
Bedouin activists protested outside the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday to demand the detainees be released and that no more be arrested.
Protest organizer Talal Alkernawi said they were protesting “the wholesale arrests of demonstrators," adding: “Police treated them very violently, undemocratically and unequally. This included smoke grenades, drones, stun grenades and shooting sponge-tipped bullets at innocent civilians.”
“Families, women, senior citizens, children, teens all came to the demonstration legitimately, but police are trying to deter the Bedouin community from exercising its democratic right to demonstrate,” he added. “We’re protesting outside the court in Be’er Sheva every morning until the detainees are freed and the arrests stop.”
On Sunday, lawmakers from the United Arab List – an Islamist party that draws much of its support from the Bedouin community, and is a member of Israel's ruling coalition – visited the village of al-Ruwais and met with several dozen local leaders.
Party leader Mansour Abbas promised that any agreement with the government will be concluded in coordination with the Negev council of unrecognized villages and with leaders in each specific community. “The UAL will serve the entire population of the south, those who voted for it and those who didn’t,” Abbas said.
“We’re citizens of Israel, and we deserve the same rights as other Israeli citizens. We’re allowed to protest, but we must obey the law … We mustn’t incite or act violently, even when there are provocations.”
He also told them that “many Jews support us, and we mustn’t lose them due to provocations … Our message to the entire Israeli population is one of living with mutual respect, without waiving our basic rights. This will be a long battle, but it’s doable.”