Around 200 Bedouin and other activists demonstrated outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem Sunday morning to protest the Jewish National Fund’s forestation work in the Negev. The demonstrators demanded that the government end its “policy of discrimination and neglect."
The protest was organized by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and the National Council of Arab Mayors. Protesters demanded that the government grant legal recognition to the Negev’s unrecognized Bedouin villages and develop the area. They also demanded that everyone arrested during the protests of the past three weeks be released.
Sunday’s demonstration is part of an ongoing protest that began with the JNF’s tree-planting operation in the Negev three weeks ago. The plantings sparked clashes between police and demonstrators, and more than 60 Bedouin were arrested. Some have since been released.
Umm al-Fahm Mayor Samir Mahamid, who attended the demonstration, said his council’s goal is to bolster Arab residents of the Negev. The protesters have a clear message, he said – “let residents of the Negev live with dignity.”
Mahamid demanded that the government treat the Bedouin as “residents and human beings” and speak with them as equals, adding that he hoped both left and right would work together “to truly solve the humanitarian problem in the Negev.”
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Ibrahim al-Turi, a social activist from the Negev, said he was afraid some Arab leaders agreed with the government’s policy. Like Mahamid, he said the demonstrators’ message is clear – “there is no negotiating over the Negev’s land, and nobody has the right to bargain over them.” This land “belongs to the residents, not the politicians,” he continued, and the protesters won’t abandon their struggle.
The Bedouin living in the Negev had said that the JNF’s forestation plan was being carried out in fields occupying their farming and herding zones, where residents had planted wheat a month prior.