More Than 800 Protest Bedouin House Demolitions in Front of Knesset

Bedouin to set up tent city near Knesset for those whose homes have been demolished or are slated for demolition.

More than 800 people protested in front of the Knesset on Monday against the government practice of demolishing Bedouin homes in the Negev.

The protestors came in 17 buses from southern Israel, and called on the government to "stop destroying homes."

After the demonstration, in the afternoon, the Bedouin began constructing what they called a "refugee camp" in the Wohl Rose Garden across from the Knesset, which is to house both the Bedouin who have had their homes destroyed and those whose homes are slated for demolition.

The encampment will be made up of three tents ? one for women, one for men and one for families. Some 30 people are expected to spend Monday night in the camp.

The Arab MKs and Dov Hanin (Hadash) visited the site. The organizers are demanding the government halt the demolitions and launch a dialogue with the Bedouin population in order to reach a joint land agreement on the unrecognized village.

The Bedouin claim ownership to some 800,000 dunams of land, or 6 percent of the territory of the Negev desert in southern Israel. To this day, Israel refuses to recognize the claims, and an estimated 75,000 Bedouin live in villages unrecognized by the government, which do not enjoy public funding or services.

Eleven unrecognized villages have received state recognition in the past several years, but 36 more have no legal status, and the homes in these villages are subject to demolition. In 2007, the government had 110 homes destroyed.

One community slated for demolition is A-Sira, which has organized to submit petitions against the move to the High Court of Justice. The government claims that A-Sira, near the Nevatim junction in the Negev, sits on land acquired in the 1980s through Israel's peace deal in Egypt, which saw an exchange of territories between the two countries.

However, the Bedouin of the village never received compensation for this land, and demolition orders for some of their homes were issued in 2006. Orders for the rest were issued this month.

The Israel Lands Administration says that the residents were offered plots in the permanent Bedouin settlement of Hura, but the this claim was met with surprise by the residents themselves. According to the Interior Ministry, the residents were asked to evacuate the premises two decades ago, after the land was expropriated in 1982 to hold future army bases. The families, however, say the order came just last year.