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16 Bedouins charged over riots against controversial Negev forestation work

Suspects accused of hurling stones at officers, setting fire to tires, blocking roads and assaulting civilians; three are minors

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli security forces fire tear gas at Bedouin demonstrators following a protest against a forestation project by the Jewish National Fund near the Bedouin village of Sa'we al-Atrash in the Negev Desert, southern Israel, January 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Israeli security forces fire tear gas at Bedouin demonstrators following a protest against a forestation project by the Jewish National Fund near the Bedouin village of Sa'we al-Atrash in the Negev Desert, southern Israel, January 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

State prosecutors on Thursday filed indictments against 16 Bedouin residents of southern Israel over rioting last week during protests against a controversial forestation project.

The suspects — three of whom are 17-year-olds — were accused of hurling stones at police officers during the controversial tree-planting project by the Jewish National Fund. Some of them were also charged with setting fire to tires, blocking roads and hurling stones at civilian cars.

“Their actions show their danger, their audaciousness, their lack of fear of the law,” prosecutors said in a request to the court to extend the suspects’ remand until the end of legal proceedings.

The offenses listed in the indictments — filed at the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court — included rioting, disturbing a police officer under aggravated circumstances, acts of recklessness and negligence, among others.

The protests last week came amid government forestation work Bedouins say encroaches on their unrecognized lands. Since last Friday there have been no clashes in the area. The forestation work had concluded last Wednesday.

Separately, the Shin Bet security agency confirmed it had been tasked with investigating several violent incidents that occurred during the protests.

Bedouin youth during a protest against tree planting by the Jewish National Fund, outside the Bedouin village of al-Atrash in the Negev desert, southern Israel, January 13, 2022 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Three cases were being probed as potential “terror incidents” with a nationalistic motive: an attack on a security guard in Tel Sheva, the burning of a journalist’s car in Segev Shalom, and the placing of rocks on train tracks leading to Beersheba, forcing a passenger train to make an emergency halt.

Thursday’s indictments did not include suspects related to those incidents.

Negev Bedouin have a contentious relationship with the state. For decades, the government has sought to move them into recognized, planned cities, but many still live in a constellation of illegal hamlets that sprawl across Israel’s southern desert.

Bedouins accuse JNF of seeking to displace them, but the organization says it is merely fulfilling a request by other government bodies on public land. JNF works across Israel on nature and conservation projects, but some charge the organization has a political agenda.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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