Police Evict Right-wing Activists Who Declared New 'Settlement' Near Southern Bedouin City

At least 15 were briefly detained after refusing to leave 'Ma'aleh Paula,' which was set up by activists looking to pressure authorities on Bedouin construction in the Negev

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One of the structures put up by the right-wing activists between Beit Kama and Shoval, early Wednesday morning.
One of the structures put up by the right-wing activists between Beit Kama and Shoval, early Wednesday morning.Credit: Ezri Tubi

Police cleared out some 20 right-wing activists who set up several mobile structures in a largely Bedouin area in southern Israel early Wednesday morning.

They had declared the area outside the city of Rahat a "new point of settlement in the Negev" that they had named "Ma'aleh Paula," named after the wife of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who lived in the Negev and made Jewish settlement in the Negev a key part of his vision.

Over 100 police officers arrived in the area to quell tensions, and later evacuated the activists and took down "a number of illegal temporary structures," a police statement said.

"The officers gave them a reasonable amount of time to leave the area independently, and after the police's instructions were not heeded, [the officers] began to evict them from the area," it continued. At least 15 young Jewish men were briefly detained after they refused to evacuate the area.  

At about 4:00 A.M., about 20 right-wing activists came to the area between Beit Kama and Shoval in the Negev, where they parked a trailer and erected wooden structures, one of which they used as a synagogue. 

"This is a Zionist response to the lack of governance and sovereignty in the Negev vis-à-vis the Bedouin and the laundering of illegal [Bedouin] buildings in the region by the government," a statement from the organizers said.

Later on in the night, dozens of Bedouin residents arrived in the area, and police are preventing skirmishes between the locals and activists.

The activists were joined later in the morning by Knesset members Itamar Ben-Gvir, Simcha Rothman and Orit Strock of the extreme-right Religious Zionism party, as well as Likud's Shlomo Karhi. 

Rahat mayor Faiz Abu Sahiban said that he asked the police officers to "evacuate the settlement and the settlers as soon as possible, otherwise I can't guarantee what the consequences will be. There are calls in the city and on social media to come to the area and clash with the settlers."

Anonymous activists

The right-wing activists planned the outpost project over the past two weeks. They had planned on setting up another so-called settlement near Nevatim, but police forces arrived at the scene, and it was not erected. 

According to the organizers, the activists who established the outpost are "settlement figures and activists in the Negev," but would not elaborate further. Three prominent local organizations that oppose legalizing unrecognized Bedouin villages all deny involvement in Ma'aleh Paula. The founder of one of these groups attributes it entirely to West Bank settlement residents.

One of the two men who were arrested during the ordeal was Tzvi Sukkot from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, who formerly served as the personal assistant to Shomron Regional Council Head Yossi Dagan. 

Ben-Gvir said that he was one of the organizers, alongside "many organizations and groups," some of which he is unfamiliar with. "Whoever wants to talk about it will talk about it," he added.    

Public relations consultant Arik Ben Shimon, who publicized the event, refused to say which organization or individuals he issued his invoices to, or who paid for the two trucks that brought the equipment to the area – one of which had a crane.

Ben Shimon waged a carefully crafted media campaign: At around 7:00 A.M., he opened a group text for journalists and began sending them reports, photos and videos of the event. Alongside pictures of the outpost being destroyed, he wrote "the Bedouin are happy" and "Bedouin celebrating the destruction of Ma'aleh Paula." His report was a "Bedouin victory photo," which shows about a dozen Bedouin on a heap of debris from the site, waving their hands with joy.   

According to Ben-Gvir, more outposts will be built in the south. "We're not leaving this place," he said. We saw how important, how essential it is, which is why we'll come back... The goal is also to settle the Land of Israel."   

The police have not opened a criminal investigation to find who funded or established the outpost.

Tensions regarding unrecognized Bedouin villages in southern Israel were amplified in January, when the Jewish National Fund began a forestation plan seen by local Bedouin as a land grab. This resulted in days-long violent clashes and a coalition crisis after the United Arab List party, which counts many in the Negev Bedouin community as its constituents, boycotted Knesset votes in protest.  

The right-wing group Regavim, which focuses on legal battles against allegedly illegal Arab construction in the West Bank, Galilee and Negev, called on the government to take down the Ma'aleh Paula outpost, "together with the rest of the illegal Bedouin community structures in the Negev, which grow by 3,500 buildings each year." 

The organization's chairman, Meir Deutsch, said that "The only thing worse than not enforcing the law is selective enforcement."  

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