Israeli Prime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said violent protests against the Prawer Bill, aimed at resettling the large majority of the Bedouin population living in Israel’s Negev desert, would not be tolerated and that offenders would be tried “to the full extent of the law.”
Netanyahu spoke with Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino following violent riots during the “day of rage” against the Bill. “We will try the offenders to the full extent of the law. They will not be tolerated. We shall continue to advance the Praver Bill,” he said.
Netanyahu further added: “The attempts of a loud and violent minority to deprive a bigger community of a better future is very severe.”
Clashes broke out Saturday evening between Israeli police and protesters as thousands of protesters erected road blocks and attacked police officers across the country.
Around 1,200 people began protesting peacefully at around 13:00 GMT in the southern Bedouin village of Hura , but at around 14:30 GMT turned violent as demonstrators and the large police force, including cavalry and helicopters, began clashing. Police arrested ten people.
Protesters threw stones at security forces deployed at the demonstration. Police responded with tear gas to disperse the protest. After the clashes erupted, some protesters began setting tires on fire, and one intersection at which protest took place, was closed to traffic.
Meanwhile, some 1,500 protesters blocked a main street in Israel’s northern city of Haifa and chanted “We will sacrifice our lives for Palestine” and “We won’t let Prawer pass.” A policer officer was stabbed in the leg by a protester in Haifa and sustained light wounds.
Among the protesters were Arab MKs including Haneen Zoabi, who in 2010 took part in the controversial Gaza Flotilla in which nine Turkish activists were shot following violent attacks on Israeli special forces attempting to stop the flotilla’s main ship.
Several dozens also demonstrated in Jerusalem’s Old City, hurled stones and tried to block a road. Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Israeli Police Souther District Commander Yoram Halevy said Police are aware of attempts to inflame tensions and bring a new round of violent protests in Israel.
“This is not the first time we’ve heard people make warnings about a Third Intifada,” Halevy said. “We approved a license for a peaceful protest and to my dismay, from the beginning it declined very quickly when they began throwing rocks and we were forced to close the highway.”
“They also threw Molotov cocktails and garbage cans,” he said, adding that “there is an attempt to start a war here but we won’t allow it to happen.”
Police said that by 18:00 GMT 28 people arrests were made and 15 police officers were lightly hurt, including Coastal District Commander Haggai Dotan; the spokeswoman of the Negev subdistrict Navah Tabo, and an officer from the Central District who was stabbed in the leg by a protester.
Situation in south ‘catastrophic’
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the rioting “serious but expected” and the situation in the south “catastrophic.”
“It is our duty to stop the situation in which there are some citizens to whom the laws of planning and construction apply and there are others who ignore them and used violence to ensure the laws don’t apply to them,” Liberman wrote on Facebook.
According to Liberman, “this isn’t a social problem or a housing crisis, but a battle for the land…We are fighting for the national lands of the Jewish people and some are intentionally trying to steal them and forcibly take them over. We cannot close our eyes and escape this reality.”
He called for the government to deal with the situation before it becomes impossible by building modern cities for Israeli Arabs, with tall buildings and infrastructure.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch issued a statement condemning the violent protests against the Bedouin resettlement plan. “I strongly condemn the fierce violence by the protesters. When such brutal violence is directed at officers it’s clear that the rioters’ goal is not a legitimate and legal protest.”
International Day of Rage
Saturday was dubbed as the ‘International Day of Rage’ against the relocation plan with demonstrations expected to take place in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as Berlin, The Hague, Cairo and other cities around the world, after organizers spent weeks drumming up support for a series of simultaneous rallies.
The Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, also known as the Prawer-Begin Plan, was drawn up by former Likud Knesset member Benny Begin and approved by the Cabinet in January of this year and approved by the parliament in a first reading in June.
It calls for Israel to officially recognize and register the vast majority of Bedouin settlements throughout the South, while compensating the residents of 35 unrecognized communities, housing some 30,000 to 40,000 people, who will be moved off state-owned land into towns built by the Israeli government.
The government says the plan will give the Bedouin the services and economic opportunities they currently lack. Bedouins and human rights activists however see the plan as a land grab tinged with anti-Arab racism with some even referring to it as an “ethnic cleansing” scheme.
A cabinet statement has said “most” residents — who do not currently receive government or municipal services — would be able to continue living in their homes after the villages are granted legal status. Bedouin advocates say that there are no obstacles to recognizing all of the current villages in place.
The government has so far neglected to provide infrastructure services to the scattered Bedouin communities, citing high expenses.
Bedouin rights groups refute such claims, arguing that isolated Jewish towns and farms in the Negev have been given such services while Bedouin requests have been ignored, an accusation the government in turn denies.