Thirteen Arrested as Clashes in Southern Israel Over JNF Tree-planting Resume

Police disperse hundreds of protesters with stun grenades and tear gas, as Israel's Negev erupts in protest over Jewish National Fund's tree-planting on land used for agriculture by local Bedouin

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Clashes between police and protesters near the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawa, on Thursday.
Clashes between police and protesters near the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawa, on Thursday.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Deiaa Haj Yahia
Deiaa Haj Yahia

Thirteen protesters were arrested Thursday after clashes in southern Israel resumed for the fourth day in a row, with hundreds of protesters demonstrating against the Jewish National Fund's tree-planting in Bedouin communities in the Negev.

The tree-planting, which began on Monday, ended on Wednesday as planned.

>>> Clashes in southern Israel are a ticking time bomb for Bennett government

Protesters gathered Thursday along an inner-city highway near the Bedouin village of Sawa, and were dispersed with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. At least three were injured, activists said. 

Protesters along Highway 31, on Thursday.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The highway, known as Highway 31, which has been closed earlier on Thursday, was reopened, according to police. In addition, police said stones were hurled on a bus as it was making its way on highway 25, no casualties were reported. 

After police dispersed the crowds, some protesters threw stones. Police said they “allow the freedom of assembly as long as it complies with the rule of law and will act with zero tolerance towards any disorderly conduct."

On Wednesday night, large police forces were deployed near the Bedouin towns of Segev Shalom and Tel Sheva and protesters were dispersed with stun grenades.

Five people were arrested for disturbing the peace, stone-throwing and torching tires.

Earlier Wednesday, the government agreed that future work by JNF in the Negev will be negotiated by coalition partners, in a bid to ease tensions after days of violent clashes over forestation work on the land used for agriculture by local Bedouin.

Despite the deal, negotiated between Labor Minister Meir Cohen and United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas, UAL legislators boycotted the votes in the Knesset Wednesday over the JNF's tree-planting, during which the opposition passed five different bills in preliminary votes. Bedouin constitute a substantial portion of the Islamist party's voter base.

The JNF plans to plant 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres) of forest along the Anim stream, which flows into the Be’er Sheva stream. The first phase of the project included preparation and planting on 300 dunams, which local Bedouin farmers planted wheat on just a month ago.

Political leaders and activists have slammed the plan as endangering the livelihoods of local Bedouin families.

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