2 Bedouin minors nabbed for blocking train tracks amid Negev tree-planting protests

The 15-year-olds face charges of endangering human lives, conspiracy to commit a crime; Shin Bet probed case as a potential ‘terror incident’

Stones placed on train tracks near Beersheba in January during mass Bedouin protests in the Negev. (Israel Police)
Stones placed on train tracks near Beersheba in January during mass Bedouin protests in the Negev. (Israel Police)

Police on Friday announced the arrests of two minors from the Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel suspected of blocking train tracks near Beersheba during at times violent protests over forestation work in the area.

On January 11, large rocks were placed on the train tracks, forcing one train to make an emergency stop after the engine driver noticed the blocked tracks.

The incident caused extensive damage to the train and endangered its passengers.

Police said at the time they would launch a joint investigation together with the Shin Bet security agency to track down the culprits.

In a statement Friday announcing they solved the case, police said they arrested two 15-year-old suspects from Rahat on April 19.

The suspects are due to appear before the Beersheba District Court on Friday. They face charges of endangering human lives and conspiracy to commit a crime.

The Beersheba District Court. (Flash90)

“This is a serious incident that was investigated together with the Shin Bet,” said Yossi Doron, police commander of the Negev Central Unit, which was put in charge of investigating the incident.

“The incident could have led the train to run off the tracks, which would have ended in a massive disaster,” he added.

The incident took place during mass Bedouin protests in the country’s south against a controversial tree-planting project led by the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

Protests quickly turned violent, however, as Bedouin rioters confronted police officers in multiple locations in the northern Negev, and others set fire to tires, blocked roads and hurled stones at civilian cars.

In January, following several days of violent incidents, prosecutors filed indictments against 16 Bedouin residents of southern Israel.

Three cases were 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 the train tracks leading to Beersheba.

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)

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 the 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.

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