RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Thousands of Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank demonstrated Saturday against an Israeli government plan that in some cases would relocate Bedouins from traditional lands in the Negev desert to urban communities.
Some of the gatherings turned violent, with 28 protesters arrested and at least 15 police officers injured, one of them stabbed. Police fired stun grenades, tear gas and skunk water to disperse demonstrators.
The “Day of Rage” was called as the Israeli parliament was preparing to give final approval to what has become known as the Prawer Plan, named after an Israeli government official who wrote it.
Israeli officials say the plan was reached after extensive consultation with Bedouin leaders. It would provide recognition and previously denied services for some Bedouin communities that have been viewed by the Israelis as squatters on state land and relocate others while providing some compensation.
The controversial plan faces strong opposition from many Bedouins, who say it would in effect expropriate 200,000 acres of Arab land and forcibly relocate more than 40,000 Bedouins.
“The government is trying to present the plan as ‘in the best interest of the Bedouins,’ while with one hand it is acting to destroy Bedouin villages through the Prawer Plan and with the other it is building new Jewish localities in the Negev, some of these in the very same places where the villages stand today,” said law student Huda Abu Obeid, an activist.
“You cannot uproot an entire population and urbanize it without consultation -- and that is precisely what the government is doing,” said Fadi Obra, a 29-year-old from the Bedouin town of Rahat.
Among the day’s protests, thousands of Arab Israeli protesters gathered near the Bedouin town of Hura in the Negev and Haifa in northern Israel carrying Palestinian flags and signs saying “Prawer will not pass” and “We will not leave our homes.” They clashed with police at both sites after blocking main roads. Dozens were arrested, according to police.
In Jerusalem, dozens of Palestinians protested the plan near Damascus Gate of the Old City, while Palestinians representing various political groups clashed with Israeli soldiers near an Israeli settlement just outside Ramallah.
Medics said many people were treated after inhaling tear gas and being hit by rubber-coated metal bullets. Soldiers arrested three people, said activists.
Late Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the police action against the demonstrators. “We will treat offenders to the fullest extent of the law and will not tolerate such disturbances. … Attempts by a loud and violent minority to deny a better future to a large and broad population are grave.”
Abukhater is a special correspondent. Sobelman is a news assistant in the Times’ Jerusalem bureau and contributed from Jerusalem.