Forty people were arrested and 15 police officers were injured Saturday during clashes that broke out between police and protesters at a demonstration in the Negev against the controversial Prawer Plan aimed at resettling the large majority of the Bedouin population living in the area.
Protesters threw stones at the security forces deployed to the organized demonstration, which attracted over 1,500 people. Police responded with stun grenades and water cannons to disperse the protest.
Saturday was marked as an International Day of Rage against the plan with protests also taking place in Haifa, Jerusalem, the northern Triangle area and in the West Bank in places near Ramallah and Hebron. Protests were also held in European cities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence Saturday evening, saying a “vocal and violent minority” was trying “to deny a better future to a large and broad population.”
“We have – and will have – no tolerance for those who break the law,” said the prime minister, vowing to advance the plan for “a better future for all residents of the Negev.”
The police commander of the Southern District, Yoram Halevy, said that the protest at Hura junction in the Negev was “an attempt to start a war.”
Halevy said the protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at police and set trash cans alight as police attempted to disperse them.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman criticized the protesters and leaders of the Bedouin community, framing the events in the context of a land dispute.
“We are fighting for the national lands of the Jewish people and there are those who intentionally try to steal them and take over them by force. We must reexamine this plan and consider a comprehensive plan that would cancel any benefits the Bedouin were supposed to receive. If there is no acceptance of the plan [on their part], there will be no benefits,” he charged in statement posted to Facebook on Saturday.
MK Miri Regev (Likud), who heads the Knesset Interior Committee, said the Bedouin were lending a hand to the “incitement against the state and its delegitimization,” adding that “the current situation in the Negev cannot continue.”
Opposition head Isaac Herzog (Labor) also took to Facebook to respond to the events, saying that a plan in which one of the sides was not a real partner and was not involved in its preparation cannot be implemented.
“We must reach a decision that is acceptable to everyone. A solution that incorporates sensitivity [to the issues] and not just cold, hard wording. A solution that takes into account the people [involved],” he wrote.
The Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, also known as the Prawer-Begin Plan, was drawn up by former Likud minister and Knesset member Benny Begin and approved by the Cabinet in January.
It calls for Israel to officially recognize and register the vast majority of Bedouin settlements throughout the South, and compensate the residents of 35 unrecognized villages — some 30,000 to 40,000 people — who are to be moved off state-owned land into towns built for them.
The Israeli government says the plan will give the Bedouin the services and economic opportunities they currently lack. But where the government sees investment, Bedouin and human rights activists see a land grab tinged with anti-Arab racism.
Critics have called the plan a forced population transfer, with some even referring to it as an “ethnic cleansing” scheme.
Around 200,000 Bedouins live in the Negev, most concentrated in an area around the city of Beersheba.
They lived under military rule until the 1960s, and have since resisted government efforts to move them into seven larger, recognized communities. Bedouin say those towns are rife with crime, poverty and the same lack of basic services they currently face.
The urban setting also makes their traditional occupation, raising livestock, much more difficult.
While the Prawer Plan allows for the “overwhelming majority” of Bedouin to receive recognition for their villages and houses, Bedouin advocates say that there are no obstacles to recognizing all of the current villages in place.
Against claims that services are too expensive to provide to scattered settlements, they charge that isolated Jewish towns and farms in the Negev have been given such services while Bedouin requests have been ignored, an accusation the government denies.
Bedouin and the government have frequently clashed over land claims. Many Bedouin have lived in their unrecognized homes and towns for decades, but few have any documentation.
The Prawer Plan has sparked several protests in Israel over the past year, and has drawn condemnation from international bodies.
In January, Netanyahu said the plan was aimed at ending the 65-year-long reality wherein the state lost control of land settled by semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes. It would also “put an end to the spread of illegal building by Negev Bedouin and lead to better integration of the Bedouin into Israeli society,” he said.